19 May 2014

Anguish in the Azores for Breen

After taking top spot in his Peugeot 208 T16 on the 3.22km qualifying stage, Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen selected to run 12th on the road for the opening three stages of Leg 1 (Thursday) hoping the drivers ahead would sweep the loose gravel from the roads allowing him more grip.

Many of the drivers said they found the opening stage very slippy and Craig arrived at stage end with front bumper damage saying “I’m using the mud banks like the snow banks in Sweden, probably not the best approach”.  Maybe he was wrong because Craig set the fastest time 2.0 seconds ahead of his Peugeot Rally Academy team-mate Kevin Abbring. Craig’s road position hampered him through the very narrow stage two that saw the drivers ahead pull out big rocks in places. It was Polish driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz that went fastest through that stage Craig only managed third fastest but was just 1.2 seconds in arrears with his team-mate Abbring hot on his heals only one tenth of a second behind.

Before the overnight halt, the crews tackled the 3.45km Quarry Super Special, used every year but ever changing as the quarry evolves. Kajetanowicz was fastest again leaving Craig a slim overnight lead of 0.9 seconds.

Craig restarted the leg on Friday running 10th on the road but he didn’t compete on the opening stage four after Kajetanowicz and Moura hit rocks and blocked the stage causing it to be cancelled. Kevin Abbring was the last car to complete the stage and all the remaining drivers including Craig were given his time. Craig was fastest on stage five extending his lead but a puncture on the volcano stage six allowed Bernardo Sousa his first stage win of the rally Craig taking third 5.5 seconds back.

Craig set fastest time on the next stage increasing his lead to 7.8 seconds heading into the mid-day service where he planned just a few minor adjustments to improve the handling of his 208 T16.

When the second loop got underway Craig took a cautious approach on his first pass through stage eight which had caused so much drama earlier and that saw his lead overall cut to 2.5 seconds. It was business as usual on nine when another fastest time saw that lead ease back up to 6.5 seconds but it was just beyond the finish line of that stage where Craig’s rally ended when he was unable to fire up his engine at the Stop Control after its coil leads had burned for a reason which has yet to be established thus forcing him to retire. From then on it was left to Craig’s Peugeot Rally Academy team-mate Abbring to defend Peugeot honours as he battled it out with Portuguese driver Sousa through the remaining eight stages but it was Sousa that came out on top to win his home event.

A disappointing end to what was a very important rally for Craig and Scott’s championship. The pair finished as they started, second in the championship standings and as the best four finishes from the first 6 rounds count it is vital that they pick up good points on the next round in Belgium at ERC Geko Ypres Rally in June.

You can keep up to date with Craig’s FIA ERC 2014 campaign by visiting www.craigbreen.com  or  www.peugeot-sport.com