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Breen denied back-to-back Sanremo Rally wins after late penalty


Craig Breen: penalty shock

Craig Breen: penalty shock

Craig Breen: penalty shock

There was bitter disappointment for Craig Breen after the finish of the Sanremo Rally.

A 10-second penalty denied the reigning Irish Tarmac champion a second successive victory on the Italian Championship round after he and co-driver Paul Nagle crossed the finish line in their R5 Hyundai with an apparent five-second victory margin.

It was ruled they had clocked into a road section time control one minute late, incurring the 10-second penalty. Clearly they were unaware of the penalty for Breen had an 11-second lead starting the final stage, but eased back to ensure a safe finish, dropping six seconds to Italian National champion Andre Crugnola who was declared the winner.

In essentially an opportunity to prepare for Rally Croatia later this month when the World Championship switches from snow to tarmac, Breen fought off a strong challenge from Italy's top contenders, including double European champion Giandomenica Basso, to seemingly lead home a Hyundai R5 one-two finish.

Breen, who also won the event in 2019, bounced back from his accident on the opening round of the Italian series to grab a narrow lead on Saturday's prologue stage.

The reigning Irish Tarmac champion slipped back as low as fourth as the rally moved into the longer Sunday's stages before staging a fightback which saw him close to third behind Hyundai team-mate Crugnola and Basso's Skoda.

A puncture on stage six dropped Basso out of contention and fastest time saw Breen edge ahead of Crugnola, a lead he extended to 11 seconds on the penultimate stage, number seven.

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A steady drive through the final stage allowed Breen to keep Crugnola at bay to win by five seconds, but then came the shock of the road penalty which dropped him back to second.

Breen is registered for the Italian Championship and despite his accident on the Rally Il Ciocco when a front puncture sent his car sliding off the road and down an embankment, he remains in contention with second place points plus a bonus for his power stage win.

It proved a disappointing event for another of the Hyundai contingent, Oliver Solberg, the young Norwegian and his Tyrone team-mate Aaron Johnston retiring on the third stage.

They ran wide on a corner, damaging a rear wheel which moments later came adrift.

It had looked like a third Sanremo win for co-driver Nagle who partnered Kris Meeke when victory in 2009 clinched the Intercontinental Challenge series.

He and Breen now move on to Croatia, a new event in the World Championship, where they will again team up Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville in Hyundai's continuing battle with Toyota.

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