Belfast Telegraph

Breen misses out as Evans keeps his Ford spot

Top pick: Elfyn Evans is Ford choice ahead of Craig Breen
Top pick: Elfyn Evans is Ford choice ahead of Craig Breen

By Sammy Hamill

Craig Breen has lost out to former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans in the race for a place in the Ford team for the 2019 World Rally Championship.

The line-up for the next month's Monte Carlo Rally reveals the M-Sport Ford team will field Welshman Evans alongside Finn Teemu Suninen, effectively ending Breen's chances of continuing in the series.

The two-time Circuit of Ireland winner had been part of the Citroen set-up, and Kris Meeke's team-mate, for the past three years but his contract was not extended when they recruited World champion Sebastien Ogier from Ford and signed another Circuit winner, Esapekka Lappi, from Toyota.

With Meeke filling the vacancy at Toyota, Breen's hopes of remaining in the championship rested with Hyundai and Ford. But the surprise return of nine-times World champion Sebastien Loeb for a six-rally programme with the Korean squad, sharing a third car with Dani Sordo, saw him frozen out there.

The signs did not look good when, just ahead of the publication of the Monte Carlo entry list, it was announced Breen's regular co-driver Scott Martin was moving to partner Evans next season.

Ford's decision to retain Evans - a reward, perhaps, for his supporting role alongside champion Ogier this year - leaves the Waterford driver on the sidelines along with two other 2018 WRC regulars Mads Ostberg and Hayden Paddon.

The one glimmer of hope for Breen remains at M-Sport with the Cumbria-based team running a third Ford Fiesta for WRC2 champion Pontus Tidemand in Monte Carlo and his home event, Rally Sweden.

No decision has been taken on the third car from Rally Mexico onwards but with M-Sport struggling for cash, it will almost certainly go to a driver who can bring substantial backing.

Indeed, M-Sport's position is so precarious they requested an extension of the FIA closing date for 2019 entries and have now revealed company boss Malcolm Wilson is stepping back from WRC involvement to concentrate on the commercial side of the business which includes the Junior World Championship, customer cars and the Bentley GT racing team.

Richard Millener will take over from Wilson who has headed M-Sport's day-to-day WRC operations since his company took over the running of Ford's championship programme in 1997. He led the team to three manufacturers' titles and two drivers' crowns in 2017 and 2018 with Sébastien Ogier.

He will remain heavily involved in the programme but is unlikely to travel to all rounds in 2019 as he focuses on consolidating the 300-strong M-Sport company, which has been financially stretched by running six-time champion Ogier for the last two seasons.

"Next year is going to be a very important year for M-Sport. We have a number of new projects coming up including the launch of our Evaluation Centre at Dovenby Hall," Wilson explained.

Ogier, winner of the rally for the last five years, heads a Monte list which features a number of changes to team personnel. The reigning champion will begin his title defence at the wheel of a Citroen C3 WRC with a second car for his new team-mate Lappi.

The Toyota Gazoo squad will field Yaris WRC cars for Jari-Matti Latvala, Ott Tänak and Meeke who will have Sebastian Marshall co-driving in place of his old Citroen partner Paul Nagle..

Evans, Suninen and Tidemand make up the M-Sport Ford entry and Hyundai have also registered a trio of entries for Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and new signing, seven-time Monte winner Loeb.

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