Safety Direct Galway International Rally
Sunday 7th February Oranmore, Galway, Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts driving the “Kick Energy” Ford Fiesta Super 2000 have secured second overall on the Safety Direct Galway International Rally. In front of a large crowd on the finish ramp Craig celebrated the great result stating, “The result is unbelievable, the car only arrived a week ago, we did some testing but you never really know until you get competitive miles under you belt. Yesterday we were on the pace from the start and that gave Gareth and I a lot of confidence. Before the rally began we hoped to be up there with the Group N boys but now looking back over the two days to have set times and competed with the World Rally Cars is just unbelievable and on the final stage yesterday we claimed a fastest time which unreal for the car and ourselves. We were in a huge fight this morning with Tim McNulty but his gearbox cried enough on stage thirteen. It was hard luck on Tim as he suffered a puncture yesterday and lost time which elevated us to second place, we knew with only a thirty second gap this morning he would push hard and that’s what he did, it was tit for tat until he went out. I would like to thank all my team, as this is not just a one-man effort. Firstly my parents for purporting me and being 100% behind me when we decided to purchase the Fiesta S2000. Next Gareth and all the team who put in an unreal effort over the last week, I would also like to thank my sponsors, Kick Energy, Keltech Eng, Pirelli, Castrol and Suirway after deciding to purchase the Fiesta, the new event programme for 2010 would only be possible with their impute. Martin Pallot of Pirelli was influential yesterday as the road temperatures was very low but he was always on hand to give advice”.
Before the event there were a number of questions about the young driver who in 2009 took to rallying by storm in his debut season. As the year unfolded everything turned to gold for the driver who just celebrated his twentieth birthday during this week. Now as a new season was about to get under way could Craig raise his game to an even higher level as he moved to the “Ford Fiesta Super 2000” for the 2010 season.
Day One: After the ceremonial start on Friday evening in Oranmore Village just outside Galway City the rally action began on Saturday morning north west of Galway city near the village of Monivea under a veil of freezing fog and it was the current British Rally Champion Keith Cronin that was fastest out of the blocks, taking the opening stage by .2 of a second from Tim McNulty. Gareth MacHale who was first on the road and slotted in at third, five seconds down on Cronin. Craig and co driver Gareth Roberts took a controlled approach on their first competitive stage in the new car and were thirteen seconds down on the leader with a time of 8:43.6. After an unbelievable pace on the initial stage Cronin’s rally came to a premature end on stage two when he crashed out. After Cronin’s exit Gareth MacHale took over as leader by 1.2 seconds from McNulty, who stalled twice costing him time. Alastair Fisher in the Group N EVO 9 recorded the second best time through the stage and lifted himself to third. Craig again took the sensible tactic in the greasy conditions and at the finish stated, “I’m just finding my way with the car, this is the start of a long two day’s of rallying”. On stage three the lead changed hands again as McNulty took three seconds off MacHale and now had a 1.8 second advantage. Craig was starting to get to grips with the Pirelli shod Fiesta and recorded third best time through the 14.8 km. In service Craig stated “The car feels very soft so the crew will stiffen the suspension now for the next loop, but this is just minor a problem, I’m still getting to know the car and to be in fourth place after three stages and just one second of the Group N lead of Alastair Fisher is great”.
Over the second loop the “Kick Energy” Fiesta was transformed by the changes made in service and now Craig was getting more confidence. The fight at the top of the leader board was starting to heat up as just 0.3 of a second separated Tim McNulty and Gareth MacHale at the end of the second run over (Belleville 2) stage four, McNulty’s lead was now up to 2.1 seconds from MacHale. MacHale put the hammer down on stage five (Windfield 2) and took five seconds from Tim, Craig recorded 6:54.4 which was thirteen seconds quicker than his first run and by now had now opened up the gap on his Group N rival Fisher, who was fourth and fifteen seconds away. On stage six McNulty clipped a left corner and his Subaru sustained a puncture that cost Tim over a minute and as the cars entered the final service of the day Craig was in second place and had an advantage of 22.6 seconds on Alastair Fisher in Group N. Craig looked very pleased and stated, “this is still my first outing in the Fiesta Super 2000, I’m only now finding my rhythm and there’s more to come from the car”.
Tim McNulty looked up for the fight on stage seven and was the man to beat on the stage, taking seven seconds back from MacHale, Breen was full of confidence now and posted 8:34.6, just 0.2 of a second behind Aaron MacHale. Stage eight (Windfield 3) and Gareth MacHale claimed fastest time by one second from McNulty, the familiar look of Aaron MacHale third over the 13.25 km and Breen fourth just 2.5 behind and holding second overall. Breen then finished the day with a flourish on stage nine the final test of leg one and for the first time on Irish soil the “Fiesta Super 2000” scored a fastest stage time to round off an incredible debut opening day. Back in service Craig reflected with a smile on his face that “I’m delighted to be in this position after my first day in the new car. To be second overall and leading Group N is unbelievable. I knew we had a good set up coming in to the event but to be on the pace from the start is just brilliant. After the first loop of stages this morning we adjusted the suspension which made all the difference, the car is just fantastic to drive and there’s a lot more to come”. Craig went on to say “I could hardly believe we were fastest on the final stage. It didn’t feel like our speed was anything special, we ran wide on one corner and touched a stone but it was no problem. Now after today’s performance I’m really looking forward to tomorrow”.
Day Two: The action for day two of the 2010 Safety Direct Galway International Rally moved to the Loughrea region where six stages awaited the competitors. The layout entailed a two-stage format that was repeated three times, taking in 108.9 km. The first test of the day was “Black Road 1” which was 16.3 km long, after his puncture on stage six (Saturday evening) Tim McNulty had a thirty one second deficit to regain if he was going to over take the young charger (Breen) in the Fiesta. McNulty dually obliged by setting the fastest time by 0.5 of a second from Gareth MacHale and more importantly seven seconds quicker than Breen. The overnight lead that Breen had was now down to 23.8 seconds. Things turned in favor of the young Waterford driver on the following stage as he banged in the second best time on the stage (11:14.2) 2.6 seconds off MacHale but five seconds faster than McNulty. The cars then returned to for the first service halt of the day, McNulty reported as he entered that on stage eleven that he got caught out on a slippy patch and slid on at a junction and lost some time. All was well in the Breen camp but there was some work to do on the gear liver, which required welding. As Craig and Gareth reversed the Fiesta down off the service blocks Craig’s parents looked on in anticipation. With only four remaining stages to finish second on their first event with the new Ford Fiesta S2000 would be an unbelievable result. On the second run of the “Black Road” stage McNulty repeated his fastest time from the morning run and stopped the clock at 9.20.3 cutting six seconds from his earlier attempt, MacHale and Breen also improved their respective times, the Dubliner by five (9.22.1) and Breen in the Super 2000 by two seconds (9.32.00), Breen’s lead at this point was down to 16.9 seconds. Next up was the second run over the 20km of the Duniry stage. The first time through Craig took five seconds from McNulty but now with pressure on both drivers who would be brave? Breen stopped the clock at 11:04.4 improving his first run time by ten seconds. At the halfway point in the test spectators reported that McNulty was pushing as hard as possible, just before Craig pulled away from the finish time control word come over the radio that McNulty had stopped a few kilometers from the end with a broken gearbox. A knock on effect of McNulty’s exit was that Alastair Fisher was elevated to third but was 1:27.2 behind Craig. So down to the last two stages, up first was “Black Road” for the third and last time. MacHale held a 1:32.3 lead over Craig and Craig held a 1:27.2 over Alastair Fisher so the pressure was off, this did not reflect in their stage times however as MacHale set 9:23.4 just one second off his best time on the second run, Breen then bettered MacHale’s time by 0.2 of a second setting 9:23.2, bettering his fastest time to date be nine seconds. Over the last stage both drivers took it the sensible approach and kept station and finished one two, which was a great result for both drivers.
Martin Pallot of Pirelli on Craig’s result: “Craig has had a fantastic debut on the Galway International Rally, the event was always going to be a test event in the new car – starting steadily and building his speed over the weekend. Second place is a fantastic result and the stage times have been excellent, Craig has been driving well within his limits over the weekend, building his confidence in the new car; as his confidence grows and he pushes harder the future potential of the team, car and tyre package is excellent”.