15 April 2014

Craig all set for the Circuit

“What an honour to be running No.1 for the Circuit of Ireland.” That’s what Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen tweeted on the evening that the seeded entry list for the fourth round of the FIA European Rally Championship 2014, The Circuit of Ireland Rally (17th – 19th of April) was released, writes Jamie Kent.

There can be no greater sense of achievement than to follow your rallying dreams and in the process come home one day to compete as the ERC championship leader in a works car, in a works team and be the favourite to win. That's what the 2009 winner of the “Motorsport Ireland / Irish Sports Council” young Driver of the Year (The Billy Coleman Award) Craig Breen will do next weekend.

The vote of confidence then, and the support from both bodies since, will see Craig return to his iconic ERC home event five years later not only as a Peugeot works driver but on top form fresh from his debut ERC win at the last round of the Championship the “Acropolis Rally” in Greece where he also gave the all new Peugeot 208T16 its debut win.

As normal on the ERC Craig, along with his co-driver Scott Martin, will begin their assault on the Northern Ireland lanes beginning on Thursday with a 4.1km Qualifying stage which is based at Ballycultra Village in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, where the fastest driver in Qualifying will earn the right to select their starting position for Friday’s opening leg first followed by the second fastest driver and so on. The selections will be made as part of the ceremonial start event outside Belfast City Hall later on that evening before the cars return to the Titanic Quarter for overnight parc ferme making it a real showcase event for the “Discover Northern Ireland” backed rally.

Leg 1 is made up of ten stages in total book-ended by relatively short stages, a 6.9km opener and a 2.3 km Newtownards TT stage that takes in part of the famous Ards Tourist Trophy Circuit. During the day the crews will compete on well-known stages such as Hamilton’s Folly with a mid-loop service back at the Titanic Quarter and a service there again before checking into parc ferme for the night.

Day two (Saturday) consists of only  eight stages but the Bronte Homeland test measuring almost 30km in length will make it a big challenge for the drivers , the stage run twice is the longest of the rally  and will link the towns of Banbridge and Rathfriland. Another highlight will be the purpose-built stage through the streets of Lisburn,  also used twice but in quick succession it proved instrumental in the outcome of the 2012 Circuit when it was last used.

Without doubt Craig’s main rival for championship points on the rally will be Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi who currently only lies four points behind him in the standings but for the rally victory he will face some tough opposition from his fellow Peugeot Rally Academy team mate Kevin Abbring who was leading in Greece until a stone punctured the radiator of his 208T16 and forced his retirement.

You can keep up to date during the event by visiting www.craigbreen.com or www.peugeot-sport.com