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Breen's joy at securing Hyundai seat tempered by Fafe Rally crash and death of influential Campion

 

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Hard road: There was trouble ahead for Craig Breen in Portugal

Hard road: There was trouble ahead for Craig Breen in Portugal

Hard road: There was trouble ahead for Craig Breen in Portugal

It proved to be a bitter-sweet weekend for Craig Breen.

The announcement that the Irish Tarmac champion had been recalled to the Hyundai team for the Belgian round of the re-vamped World Championship came shortly before he crashed on day one of the Fafe Rally Montelongo in Portugal and coincided with the news that one of the biggest benefactors of Irish motorsport, John Campion, had died in America.

Breen and Callum Devine, who finished ninth in Portugal yesterday, were just two of the drivers who benefitted from the support of Cork-born businessman and philanthropist Campion, a driving force behind Motorsport Ireland's Academy programme.

A motorsport enthusiast all his life and a collector of historic racing and rally cars, Campion had been diagnosed with leukaemia last year and, despite a bone marrow transplant, he died in Florida at the weekend.

As well as his support for the Academy, Campion had been instrumental in lifting Breen's morale after he had been dropped by Citroen, providing the cars through his CJJ Motorsport team which saw him return to Irish rallying and win the 2019 Tarmac title.

He was told of Campion's death midway through the opening leg of the Fafe Rally where he had been as high as second place behind eventual winner Russian Alexei Lukyanuk before being caught out by an oil spill on the eighth stage, his R5 Hyundai spinning and hitting a rock which destroyed the rear suspension.

Breen had started the European Championship round in buoyant mood after Hyundai revealed he would re-join their WRC team alongside World champion Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville for the Ypres Rally in November, an event he won last year in an R5 VW Polo.

Indeed, Hyundai have lined up a busy schedule for him and co-driver Paul Nagle starting next weekend with the Aarova Rally Oudenaarde and later the Belgium South Rally where he will have the opportunities to re-acclimatise himself to a WRC i20. In his last appearance in the World Championship Breen finished second behind Tanak in a Hyundai one-two in Estonia.

He also has a series of European Championship rounds lined up in Antibes, Hungary, the Canaries and back in Belgium again for the Spa Rally as part of his Hyundai R5 programme for MRF Tyres.

Devine and stand-in co-driver James Fulton, meanwhile, battled to a ninth place finish in Portugal in his R5 Hyundai.

Already low on confidence after his huge crash in the previous ERC round in Latvia, Devine, Ireland's International Driver of the Year in 2019, struggled initially in the mixed weather conditions and was then hampered by a fuel pressure issue.

The rally brought trouble, too, for Oliver Solberg and his Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston. Their VW Polo had to re-built overnight after a heavy crash during shakedown and they were vying with Breen for second when the car suffered engine issues on Saturday evening, dropping them down the order.

Belfast Telegraph