As the champagne is sprayed out side the McWilliam Park Hotel at the finish ramp of the Mayo Stages Rally, Craig Breen celebrates his second podium finish of the year in the “Kick Energy” Ford Fiesta S2000. The twenty year old driver tussled over all of the nine stages that made up round two of the Dunlop National Rally Championship but in the end had to give way to more powerful machinery. Craig at the finish ramp said “I came to this event as preparation for the circuit and both my car and I were tested in every way. The car has the scares to prove this as at point I took an excursion into a Mayo ditch. I’m very happy with third place over all, plus we were able to set a fastest stage time on SS 3 and share that fete on SS5 and SS8. The pace of Melvyn and Kevin today was unreal, this result sets us up for the Circuit in three weeks time and with some luck we can achieve another good result there”.
A huge crowd brought the square in Claremorris to a stand still on Saturday night for the ceremonial start as the Mayo Motor Club welcomed the second round of the National rally Championship. The top twenty cars, plus a host of local crews filed over the start ramp and Dougie Hughes was on hand to interview the drivers and navigators in turn. There was a lot excitement surrounding the “Kick Energy” Fiesta S2000 from the time Craig arrived in the town as for most people in attendance it was their first opportunity to get a look at the new creation from Ford and M-Sport.
As Craig’s turn came around to drive upon to the start ramp there as a big cheer as the young Waterford driver as starting to gather a lot of fans country wide with his results in from last season and his second place finish in the Galway International. Ass he exited the car, the voice of Irish Motorsport Dougie Hughes called him and his co driver for this event Dai Roberts for an interview. “Well Craig what do you thing of the reception here in Claremorris for the start of the rally?” “I think it’s absolutely brilliant Dougie. Having the start here tonight gives the people in the town and the local area the time to see all the cars and drivers before the rally begins tomorrow morning. “Craig you’re here taking part in this rally to tarmac test the car before the Circuit of Ireland?” “Yes, Dougie I am, the second round of the tarmac championship is only three weeks away and want to have a good set-up for the event”. “What do you think of the stages?” “The stages look very good, they look fast and I think they will suit my car. Also Dougie when I have the chance I would like to congratulate clerk of the course Eomonn Walsh and his team. They have put a lot of hard work in to this event and the organisation is first class. This doesn’t happen just over night and from myself and Dai I wish all involved all the best for the rally tomorrow”. “Craig you have a change of co driver for this event, “What’s the story this?” “Yes Dougie, I have a new person in the hot seat tomorrow, Gareth my usual navigator is in France on holidays so for this rally his brother Dai is seating with me”. “Thanks Craig and I wish you all the best for tomorrow”.
The real action started on Sunday morning with Woodstock 1 the first of nine stages at 09.37 hrs. The opening two tests (Woodstock and Logboy) were located to the East of Claremorris, with the third (Five Crossroads) in the loop situated due North of the town. Dry weather during the week prior to the rally left the stages in excellent condition. Woodstock and Logboy were fast flowing stages but the third in the loop Five Crossroads took in narrower roads and was more technical in nature. Aaron MacHale started number one on the road and was followed by a quartet of Subaru drivers, Melvyn Evan at number two, Niall Maguire in the first of the Triton Showers Subaru Impreza’s and was followed by Kevin Barrett in the second. Derek McGarrity completed the top five in his Impreza S12B, Craig slotted in at fifth and the first Group N runner (Class 4). Kevin Kelleher the reigning Patterson’s RallyNews Group N champion did initially enter the rally but withdrew his entry in the days leading up the event. This left Craig as the top seed in the category and was joined in the class by Donegal’s, Danny McBride (Mitsubishi), Meath’s, Sean Flanagan (Subaru) and Donegal’s, Trevor Bustard (Mitsubishi).
Only four of the top crews made it through the opening stage as fifth car on the road Derek McGarrity had an accident near halfway and blocked the stage. There was little damage to the car but the following ten competitors were all held up by the accident. Craig was first to arrive at the scene and stated afterwards “I was on a good pace to that point. Now that we will receive the time that Aaron MacHale set for the stage (9.56) I make out we will loose 15 seconds or so. Which puts us 17 down on Melvyn”. On to stage two and Craig put the misfortune behind him straight away by setting 5.01, the same time as the Welsh driver and just two off Aaron MacHale who set the fastest. This got better for the Fiesta driver on stage three when he set his first fastest time of the day, putting him just 13 down on Evans after the first loop. In service Craig said “When we travelled over the stages during our recce we assumed that the stages would suit the Fiesta but there’s a lot of gravel being pulled out on the roads by the leading cars and this is slowing us down as the grip coming out of the corners is not there”.
On to stage four (Woodstock2) this was to be a recurring theme over the course of the day here, Evans setting fastest time and Craig dropping time in the stage. Evans stopped the clocks on 9.32 and Craig on 9.45, at the end of the test Craig stated “My car just doesn’t have the grunt of the Subaru’s in there. The stage is very fast and flows, which suits the Impreza’s”. Craig pulled out all the stops on SS5 and was rewarded with joint fastest time of 4.50 with Kevin Barrett. Up next was stage six (Five Crossroads 2) Craig was fastest on the first run here and recorded 11.19. Just before the cars entered the stage there was a light shower, making the road conditions very greasy. Craig had a very big moment just before location five on the stage. On a very fast section after a jump at a humpback bridge he clipped a bank and was off the road for a second, only for some fast reflexes the day would have come to a premature end.
After the final service in Claremorris the crews returned to (Woodstock) for the third and last time. Evans was again the man to beat setting 9.15; Craig at this point was over a minute ahead of Naill Maguire and held station in third choosing a controlled pace. The penultimate stage was a different story as Craig was the only one to live with Evans and both recorded 4.45 for the test. On to the last stage of the day, Evans and Barrett shared fastest time of 11.05 and Craig was just one second behind on 11.06.
Today marked Craig’s second Sunday of testing for up coming events. To date this year he has competed on to two rallies and finish on the podium on both. Next for Craig and the team is the first round of the British Rally Championship on Saturday 27th of March with the Bulldog International Rally. Craig will take part on a shakedown stage on Thursday the 25th as part of the event, Recce for the event is the following day and the one day rally starts early on Saturday morning.