Breen's Galway boost, but Tarmac series in turmoil
Craig Breen is a surprise entry in next month's Galway Rally, his first appearance in an Irish Tarmac Championship round since the second of his Circuit of Ireland wins in 2015.
The intervening years have seen Breen competing in the World Championship as Kris Meeke's Citroen team-mate but his contract was not extended at the end of last season, leaving him without a WRC place.
However, rather than lick his wounds, Breen has returned to his roots and will appear in Galway in an R5 Ford Fiesta with Paul Nagle, Meeke's erstwhile Citroen partner, co-driving.
Breen's appearance is a huge boost for the rally and for the Tarmac series on a day when it was announced that right-hand-drive versions of R5 cars will be allowed to take part in the series - but with specific limitations, including not being eligible to win rallies.
The Tarmac Rally Organisers Association say they have been considering this issue since early last year following requests from drivers including former champion Garry Jennings, who won't compete in left-hand-drive cars - the only homologated configuration for the current R5 cars.
But TROA have been dithering for months and only now, after the British Championship, which has two rounds in Ireland this year, opened the door to RHD variants have they acted.
However, the Tarmac Championship is officially an international series and, under FIA rules, only homologated cars are eligible to take part in the main sections of the rallies. So TROA have come up with an extraordinary set of rules which exclude RHD R5s from winning overall but their drivers can still win the Championship!
Imagine a scenario in which, say, Jennings finishes first in a RHD Hyundai i20 R5 with the current champion Josh Moffett second in a LHD Ford Fiesta R5. Under the new rules, Moffett would be declared the winner but Jennings would take maximum Championship points.
Just to muddy the waters further, Jennings is actually heading to the opening Tarmac round in Galway in his WRC Subaru S12, a car in which he could win the rally for a third time in a row but excludes him from scoring points.
No wonder the Kesh driver described the situation as "a complete mess".
"We'd hoped the Tarmac organisers would follow the lead of the British Championship and let RHD R5s compete on an equal footing and there were strong signs that, besides myself, two other champions, Gareth MacHale and Tim McNulty, would be coming back too," said Jennings, who had back-to-back wins in the French national series at the end of last season.
"But I can't see that happening now. It is a complete mess and makes me wonder whether I would be better to head back to France."