Craig Breen fails to make it a hat-trick for Ford
It was always too much to ask; too much to expect Craig Breen to continue the amazing baptism of Ford’s new Super 2000 Fiesta and win the Galway International Rally.
The little four-wheel-drive flyer had only appeared twice in competition before, winning each time in the experience hands of Mikko Hirvonen (Monte Carlo Rally) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar Rally).
No-one seriously expected Breen, just 19, to complete the hat-trick – not in Ireland where the mighty WRC cars have ruled for so long.
And he didn’t. Not quite. But second place behind the WRC Ford Focus of Gareth MacHale was hugely impressive – not just for the Fiesta but for Breen, too.
This is only the start of the Waterford youngster’s second full season in rallying and he began the Galway event with little more than two days of testing to get to grips with a totally different car.
But both Breen and the new generation Fiesta performed impeccably, setting two fastest times along the way, to finish only one-and-a-half minutes behind the Focus of MacHale who stayed cool at the front to record his third Citroen Irish Tarmac championship victory.
Tim McNulty had challenged MacHale initially but a puncture dropped him off the pace on Saturday afternoon and then as he tried to battle his way back, and reel in Breen, his Subaru’s gearbox failed yesterday.
McNulty’s exit promoted another of Ireland’s rising talents, Alastair Fisher, to third place in his production Mitsubishi although he was overhauled on the final stage by the more powerful WRC Focus of Aaron McHale.
It all begged the question: what would have happened if Keith Cronin hadn’t crashed out on just the second stage?
The British champion from Cork had been quickest on the first stage in his production Mitsubishi but misjudged his braking point on the final corner of stage two, crashing out of the rally.
But he returned yesterday, under super-rally rules, to trade times with front-runners MacHale and McNulty and, along with Breen, demonstrate that a new era is dawning.
Safety Direct Galway International Rally: 1 Gareth MacHale/Brian Murphy (Ford Focus) 2 hrs 15 mins 55.3 secs; 2 Craig Breen/Gareth Roberts (Ford Fiesta S2000) + 1 min 43.1 secs; 3 Aaron MacHale/Eugene O’Donnell (Ford Focus) + 3 mins 20.8 secs; 4 Alastair Fisher/Rory Kennedy (Mitsubishi Lancer N) + 3 min 26.0 secs.