Belfast Telegraph

Great Loeb's shock return hinders Breen's hopes of remaining on WRC stage

 

By Sammy Hamill

Another door appears to have closed in Craig Breen's face as he seeks to remain in the World Rally Championship next season.

The out-of-the-blue announcement that nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb has signed for Hyundai looks to have shut the two-time Circuit of Ireland winner out of the Korean team's picture.

With the Toyota and Citroen line-ups already confirmed, it now leaves only the M-Sport Ford team as a manufacturer-supported possibility for the Waterford driver after his three-year Citroen contract was not extended for 2019.

He had been in talks with Hyundai, but the news they have signed Loeb on a two-year deal, joining Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen, seems to have ended his hopes.

The M-Sport team, who lost reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier when he elected to return to Citroen, have still to complete their line-up with only Teemu Suninen so far confirmed.

Breen and former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans are thought to be vying for places, but team principal Malcolm Wilson has hinted there are question marks over their participation unless he can source additional funds. He has until December 21 to decide.

It has been a rollercoaster month in the WRC market, kicking off with Kris Meeke, sacked by Citroen in May, being recruited by manufacturer champions Toyota, where he joins Ott Tanak and Jari-Matti Latvala.

Six-time champion Ogier replaces Meeke at Citroen with Breen jettisoned to make way for ex-Toyota driver Esapekka Lappi.

Plans for the French team to run a third car which would have been shared by Breen and Loeb, who officially retired at the end of 2012 but pulled off a sensational Rally Catalunya comeback win in October, had to be abandoned when long-term backers Abu Dhabi withdrew support.

The victory, his 79th, fired up his desire to return and Hyundai seized the opportunity to sign him for a six rally per season programme, sharing an i20 WRC with Sordo.

Breen says he is "desperately trying to put something together" for 2019 but his options are now looking limited.

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