Belfast Telegraph

Craig Breen's bid to take on World Rally Championship given a boost

By Sammy Hamill

Vital pieces in the 2017 World Rally Championship jigsaw are expected to be in place within the week - and Craig Breen's name could be on one of them.

Both Citroen boss Yves Matton and Hyundai's Michael Nandan are reported to have said they will be in a position to confirm their drivers ahead of next week's Rally Catalunya in Spain, Nandan hinting that Thierry Neuville will be staying with the Korean team.

The Belgian was being widely tipped for a move back to Citroen to spearhead the team alongside Kris Meeke, raising questions over Circuit of Ireland winner Breen's position.

He and rising French star Stephane Lefebrve have been used by Citroen on selected rallies this year while Matton and his management team assess their potential as partners to Ulsterman Meeke when the all-new WRC cars are introduced to the World Championship.

However, it was thought that Citroen were reluctant to place all their eggs in the Meeke basket by pairing him with two relatively inexperienced drivers in what will be a crucial year for the French team.

A World Championship rally winner, Neuville would have provided strong back-up while allowing Breen and Lefebrve to continue their development by sharing a third car on suitable rounds.

But now it seems Neuville is to extend his lucrative Hyundai contract, completing the team alongside New Zealander Hayden Paddon and Spaniard Dani Sordo.

And with Volkswagen having confirmed their line-up of World champion Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, it seems Citroen's search for an experienced No.2 may have been thwarted.

Breen, in particular, has done everything asked of him, finishing all four rallies he has contested, highlighted by his third place behind winner Meeke on Rally Finland. He was also fifth on the Tour de Corse at the weekend where he was standing in for Lefebrve, still nursing injuries from his crash on Rally Germany.

And the 27-year-old Waterford driver will get another chance to impress next week when he joins Meeke for Rally Catalunya, although his Citroen fate may already be known by then.

Meanwhile, Meeke has got his wish and will be in the line-up for Wales Rally GB at the end of the month. Originally, Citroen had planned to field Breen and Lefebrve alongside Abu Dhabi benefactor Khalid Al Qassimi, with Meeke sitting out his home round while continuing the development of their 2017 C3 car.

But Meeke made it clear he was keen to take part and the injuries to Lefebrve and co-driver Gabin Moreau solved a tricky situation for Matton. Lefebrve is in the provisional entry list and, if fit, will replace Qassimi.

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