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Craig Breen: My World Rally career may have looked over but I knew I'd be back

 

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Big chance: Craig Breen will be out to impress in Sweden

Big chance: Craig Breen will be out to impress in Sweden

Big chance: Craig Breen will be out to impress in Sweden

Craig Breen has been given an unexpected opportunity to quickly return to the World Rally Championship in Sweden next month.

Even more surprisingly, he has been called into the Hyundai team to replace nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who has been dropped after a lacklustre performance in Monte Carlo, a rally he has dominated in the past.

Breen now joins last-gasp Monte winner Thierry Neuville and world champion Ott Tanak in the Hyundai line-up and is delighted to be going back to the scene of his best ever WRC finish, when he posted a second place in Sweden driving a Citroen C3 WRC in 2018.

After being dropped by Citroen along with Kris Meeke at the end of the 2018 season, Breen returned home to win the Irish Tarmac Championship and also made two appearances for Hyundai in Rally Finland and Rally GB.

But when the Korean team boss Andrea Adamo named his drivers for 2020, Breen was not included in their four-man squad of Neuville, Tanak, Loeb and Dani Sordo.

"I could see that, from the outside, it might have looked like it was all over for me but Andrea told me to trust him," said Breen.

"He's a man of his word - if he promises something he's absolutely genuine in that regard, and he's given myself and Paul (Nagle, co-driver) a career lifeline.

"At no point have I felt out of the loop. Andrea made it clear he would look after me, he told me to trust him and I do. I'm just over the moon to be back in the car and I'm obviously desperate to be back in the WRC to show what I can do."

The one downside is the possibility that Rally Sweden could be cancelled because of a lack of snow. A decision is expected to be made on Monday.

If it is called off it would be a blow, too, to Jon Armstrong, the former World eRally champion from Fermanagh who is due to return to real-time rallying in the Junior WRC where he will drive an R2T Ford Fiesta.

Armstrong won the DMACK Fiesta Trophy rookie series in 2016, earning himself two prize drives the following year in the WRC2 class in Germany and Spain, but with no budget for the following year he turned his attention to eSports and won the 2018 virtual World Rally Championship.

He made the final again last year but also returned to real rally stages, finishing fourth on the Galway International before taking victory on the Down Rally in a WRC Mini.

"Being back at WRC level was what I always wanted to do. I believe that is where I should be and I am capable of performing there," he said. "It's such a buzz on WRC events.

"My career change into the games industry has opened up some doors and opportunities for my real rallying career. I've been able to get support from new avenues and meet new people who are willing to help me."

There is good news, too, for Callum Devine, who has been selected as one of five drivers to be included in Hyundai's Customer Racing Junior Driver programme.

The 25-year-old from Claudy, who is Motorsport Ireland's International Driver of the Year, will contest this year's European Championship and, along with Pierre-Louis Loubet, Ole-Christian Veiby, Nikolay Gryazin and Gregoire Munster, will have access to Hyundai's works engineering set-up and will be mentored by their WRC crews.

Devine, who finished third on his European debut in Hungary last year and will chase the ERC Junior and outright titles in an R5 Hyundai i20, said: "This is an amazing opportunity and will certainly help with our European Championship ambitions. To have even been considered is amazing, but to have been one of the five chosen is a real honour."

Belfast Telegraph