First WRC Rally of the year for Craig, return to the Fiesta ST that brought him so much last season, FSTi lead on day one, mechanical failure during Saturday’s stages and his highest World Rally result by Sunday afternoon just scratches the surface of emotions as Craig Breen makes his first World Rally outing of the year. “I have reached new heights this weekend, my best result at world level finishing 22nd overall but here now on Sunday evening there’s still a feeling of what could have been”. Breen stated at the rally finish in Istanbul on Sunday evening. He then went on to say “Over the three days both I and Gareth have gone through every emotion possible, we were delighted to return to the world championship after taking part in four events last season. I made the perfect start on Friday, was on the pace from the start and it was great to hold the over night lead in the FSTi series, Saturday was a totally different ball game. We again got off to a great start by extending our lead but by the midday service my car required a gearbox change. With this completed I taught my luck was in this weekend. Then only two hours later we were left on the side of the road looking at superally after rear axle failure. I had dropped from 16th place to 24th and was very despondent, now after completing Sunday stages and finishing 22nd overall I’ve recorded my best result at world level and I know this is the place to be. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in making this possible”.
The voyage got under way on Friday morning and Breen driving the Castrol Team Türkiye Ford Fiesta ST in a one off drive got off to the perfect start by setting 11:17, the fastest time on the opening stage (Darlik 1, 15.66km), Castrol Team Türkiye team mate Orhan Avcioglu was next best with 11:18.3 and Harry Hunt in third with 11:22.5
On stage two, Craig suffered a delay as he was required to stop when Peter Horsey crashed out and his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X caught fire, Craig was credited with 5:56.3 for the stage and at this time was in 24th overall, leading the FSTi field and class N3. Next was the 13.52 km Bozgoca stage, Craig set his third fastest stage time with 9:26.8 and he then rounded off the morning loop by extending his lead on stage four. As the FSTi crews entered first service Craig had moved up to 23rd overall and held a 14 second lead over Orhan Avcioglu who was 25th overall and Harry Hunt completing the top three in the FSTi series and 26th overall.
Stage five started the repeat of the morning loop and saw Breen show even more dominance, he was again fastest on Darlik 2, taking 9 seconds from Victor Henriksson who was second quickest over the 15.66km. Orhan Avcioglu in his R2 moved into second place with Harry Hunt now in third. Craig and Gareth then moved up to 22nd overall on stage six (Karabeyli 2) with yet another fastest time in the series, setting 5:20 for the 8.23km. Bozgoca 2 and Breen cut 16 second off his first run and extended his advantage to 50 seconds over Harry Hunt who had jumped to second place as Orhan Avcioglu dropped over a minute on stage six. The penultimate stage of the day Halli 2 and Breen cut 7 second off his first run through the test to consolidate his position and underline his grip on the lead.
With only the Istanbul super special to go Craig had a 1 minute 10 second lead and he then pulled out another 9 seconds on that final stage putting him 19th overall and 1 minute 19 seconds ahead of Harry hunt.
Day two was defined by 145 Kms of stage action divided into a double loop of four stages. The opening three stages ranged from 13 to 18 Kms but the sting in the tail came on the last stage. Riva, at 27.17 stood apart as the longest and toughest stage of the rally. Breen set about his task again by banging in 12:19.4 on the opening Gocbeyli 1, extending his lead over Harry Hunt by another 15 seconds. On the stage Victor Henriksson, the first winner of the FSTi shootout in 2007 and lying in third place after day one, dropped 5 minutes as his brake disc woes from Friday came back to haunt him. On to stage eleven and Breen again topped the time sheets, taking nine more seconds from Hunt, with Orhan Avcioglu in the Castrol Team Turkey Ford Fiesta R2 moving into third place. Next up was Bozhane 1, the penultimate stage in the morning loop and Breen set an unbelievable 10:15.7 on the 14.59 Kms moving up to 17th overall. The final stage before service was the 27Kms of Riva 1 and Breen was in a class of his own setting 18:46.4, with his nearest Fiesta rival Murat Bostanci on 20:24.2. There was however a worry as Craig made his way off the stage as the ST Fiesta’s gearbox began to give problems and Craig could not select 2nd gear. In service as well as the usual repairs his Turkish service crew replaced the offending gearbox. Craig did sustain a ten second penalty as he was one minute late out off the thirty minute service halt.
So the rerun over the second loop beckoned. Gocbeyli 2 was first to be tackled and Breen continued to better his times from the first run over a stage by cutting five from the first time through. This changed on SS 15, Ulupelit 2 as Craig’s Fiesta succumbed to the tough conditions with a loose bolt on their rear stub axle resulting in the loss of a wheel. This brought an end to the crew fighting for FSTi honours as the pair were forced to retire for the day and return on Sunday under SupeRally. Under FIA SupeRally rules Craig had to sustain a ten minute penalty, putting the young charger down to 24th overall with the penalty incurred.
The final day’s action was primarily made up of a double loop of three stages but heavy over night rain saw the organisers cancel stages 18 and 19 on safety grounds. So the battle recommenced on special stage 20 and Breen suffered more problems but was able to continue. Midday service followed and as conditions had improved on the stages that were lost over the mornings loop, the full three tests were cleared. Over those closing stages Craig gained two more places to finish 22nd overall and second in the Fiesta SportTrophy International series.
There was a time during Saturday’s stages where a top fifteen finish or better looked on the cards but in rallying every turn, every jump, and every water splash throws up something unexpected and that’s what Craig and Gareth found out this weekend. There will be more forays to the World Rally Championship later in the season but for now Craig has gained incredible experience that will aid him in the future.