Pirelli International Rally goes to the Wire

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Dust and Drama on Second Round of British Rally Championship

Craig Breen’s preparation for the second round of the MSA British Rally Championship, the Pirelli International Rally was to travel to Istanbul over a week ago for World Rally Turkey, after three days of tough competition he was faced with a seventy hour bus journey back to the UK arriving in Carlisle just in time for the start of the rally. Three stages made up a packed Friday evening schedule and after a few hours sleep nine stages followed on Saturday, all based in the Kielder Forest Complex. Lying in third place with a deficit of thirty two second at the over night halt on Friday evening Breen set about his task by recording six fastest stage times over Saturdays stages. Going into the final stage Breen was twenty two seconds down on rally leader Keith Cronin but only four away from Gwyndaf Evans in second. Breen’s brave fight for victory was thwarted four kilometres into that final stage when his Kick Energy Ford Fiesta S2000 suffered its first puncture of the event. The Waterford driver was able to complete stage but lost over two and a half minutes dropping him behind Johnny Greer and claim albeit third overall. At the finish Breen was frustrated and disappointed with the drama that unfolded on the final test “I gave it my all during today’s stages and going into the final stage we decided to just go all out. My car never missed a beat all day and all through the event has been very good on tyres but we also new that the previous to stages took their toll. I gutted to end the event like this but we now have points on the board and with Keith’s (Cronin) exit on the last stage it opens up the championship again”.

There was some confusion about the times as they came in from stage one (Newcastleton 1) on Friday evening as the second round of the championship got under way north of host City Carlisle. First reports had reigning champion Keith Cronin stopping the clocks 53 seconds ahead of Gwyndaf Evan, with Alastair Fisher in third spot 1minute 1 second back. On the opening stage Craig and Gareth posted 8:19.3 and were in 7th place. Then as the cars entered stage two there were whispers that Cronin’s time from SS 1 was a minute incorrect, which would at that time look more accurate as from Fisher in third down to Dave Weston Jnr down in 10th there was only 10 seconds separating them. On to stage two and Cronin was fastest, Fisher was next with Craig beginning to get to grips with the S2000 and was third fastest through the test. Completing Friday evening’s stages was the first run over Black Shed 1, Cronin made it a hat trick of stage wins but the chasing pack began to raise their game. Evans in the EVO X was just 2 seconds away, with Craig 3.8. As Breen entered the service park for the over night halt he reported “My confidence was dented after the Circuit accident but the dust tonight was dangerous and difficult. Still, I’m very happy with my position. I’m driving conservatively and we’re going to change a few settings on the car for tomorrow morning rerun over those three stages”.

Saturday Morning dawned a new day and Breen sets the pace on the opening loop of three stages. Before the crews left the service park the competitors were informed that there respective times had been adjusted as Keith Cronin’s time from the first stage was 1 minute incorrect. The leader board reflecting the change and Craig was now just 32 seconds down. As he exited his service truck at Carlisle Racecourse Service Park before heading out to the first stage of the day he reported “I had a great sleep, my priority today is to put points on the board”.

On that first stage (Newcastleton 2) Breen was 1.9 seconds up on Gwyndaf Evans with rally leader Keith Cronin 2.4 down. On stage two and Cronin hits back but Breen was only .7 of a second slower, then on the third test in the mornings loop Breen took back another 7.8 seconds to leave him just 33 seconds off the lead. In Service Breen reported “I’m very satisfied with the morning’s work, Stage 4 was a good time but I could have been faster on stage 5 but got hampered again by trailing dust. Stage 6 where I picked up 3.5 on Evans and 7.8 on Cronin was another good time and I wasn’t pushing to hard”. He also went on to say “The dust is still a bit of a problem, some corners are very blind and in the high speed sections it’s very difficult to commit 100%. Overall I don’t think I was pushing that hard to top the time sheets. Everything is under control and I’m concentrating on getting to the finish”.

11.56 miles of Roughside (stage 7) and Craig punches in another fastest time, half a second better then Gwyndaf Evans with Keith Cronin a further 1.7s in arrears. During the stage we lost Alastair Fisher with transmission problems ending his rally. Fisher’s retirement elevated Dave Weston Jnr into fourth and following Evo Challenge leader Jonny Greer to fifth. In sixth were Daniel Sigurdarson and Asta Sigurdarottir in their Mitsubishi EVO X but the pair were over two and a half minutes off the pace. “Pundershaw”, stage eight was next and both Cronin and Evans complained of tyre wear, Cronin also suffered two over shoots. There were no problems for Breen as he stacked up yet another fastest time. “The car feels like its about to have a moment all the time on the high speed sections, so I’m very pleased to still be setting fastest times”, was Breen’s statement at the end of the stage.

With the cancellation of SS 9 there was a gap before stage 10, as the tension began to rise the start of SS10 “The Craggs” was delayed by a car on the preceding historic rally crashed, stopping the stage, when the stage did get the safety approval to run the Kick Energy Fiesta S2000 was quickest by 1.3 seconds from Cronin, with Evans just .3 further back. Fourth place man Dave Weston Jnr suffered hard luck as his Subaru Impreza went off the road towards the end of the stage. “As Breen wiped the sweat from his brow at the stage end he said “Wow that’s some pace, I’m pushing hard but the two boys’ are there with me all the way”.

All the attention then focused on the final stage, Cronin had the upper hand by virtue of his 17 second lead, but every competitor will you “the rally is not over until your through the final time control”, Cronin was the first of the top three to hit problems when he picked up yet another puncture, then half way through the stage Breen’s Fiesta S2000 also was hit by its first puncture of the event. As Cronin’s Impreza approached the last few metres of the rally it ground to a halt as a result of the offending puncture damaging the wiring loop. Breen did make the finish and scored his first points of the season but his puncture caused the loss of 2 and half minutes, he remained on the podium albeit behind Johnny Greer in third. Craig was very disappointed at the finish “It was our first puncture of the event, It’s hard to take, we pushed as hard as we could all day. There was times when we were nearly off the road. I’m happy with the podium place and to have our first points on the board but you always want to be on the top step”. Evans went on to win, his first on the event since 1998 when he was victorious in a two wheel drive Ibiza.