Craig Breen wins Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Motorsport report by Tony Gregory
Last weekend (10th 11th November), Irish Rally driver Craig Breen clinched the Super 2000 World Rally Championship in heroic style on the final day of World Rally Spain. In doing so the 22 year old secures consecutive world rally titles after winning the inaugural FIA WRC Academy Championship twelve months ago.
The final round in the 2012 World Rally Championship was played out around the holiday resort of Salou, on Spain‘s Costa Brava. The season ending event held an extra twist being the only dual surface rally of gravel (day one) and asphalt (Day two & three) and any one of three drivers able to take the title.
Breen suffered the severest blow of his career in June when his best friend and former co-driver, Gareth Roberts, was killed in an accident on IRC Rally, Targa Florio.
After a period of reflection, the talented Waterford driver made his comeback on World Rally Finland in August and formed a new partnership with Paul Nagle from Killarney. Even though Finland could be perceived as a false start after spectacularly crashing out, Breen confounded his critics by stamping his authority on the last three rounds of the SWRC championship and in doing so claimed a hat-trick of wins. World Rally Spain also saw Breen and Nagle finish 6th overall, equalling Sebastien Ogier‘s record of the highest overall finish of an S2000 car in the 2012 World Rally Championship.
The opening day of World Rally Spain was based on gravel with six stages but the predominant feature being rain had made the surface conditions treacherous. Initially in the morning Andersson set the pace opening a gap of 16 seconds over Craig by the end of stage two. The highlight of the first day in Salou was the 44 km‘s of the Terra Alta special stage. The first major incident of the weekend happened early on the first run when Andersson‘s Proton broke a driveshaft. By the end of the stage the Swede‘s lead had vanished as Breen turned a sixteen second deficit into a 1 minute 9 second lead.
In the afternoon as the action resumed with stage 4, Andersson cut Craig‘s lead to 55 seconds but again the rerun of Terra Alta would define the rally. Early in the test the Proton driver hit a bank damaging his steering. Breen at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta S2000 on the other hand had a perfect drive and by the end of day held an advantage of 3m 41.5s. On Friday evening Breen said, “Today was just incredibly difficult, the hardest conditions I‘ve ever driven in, so I‘m very relieved to be here. The conditions were changing at every corner and it‘s impossible to try and push in those kind of conditions.”
For day two, the event reverted to tarmac. With a commanding lead, Craig adopted a covering approach to each of the day’s six stages, keeping one eye on the road ahead and the other on Andersson’s stage times. A trouble free run helped the former WRC Academy Champion to a controlled drive and by Saturday evening his lead was 3 minutes 19 seconds.At the end of day Breen said, “I’ve been coasting around and if I could go any slower I would. Everything has gone according to plan today and although it’s been hairy out there on the stages we’ve been taking things very carefully. There’s quite a bit of pressure not to make a mistake and every little noise makes me panic that there might be something wrong. Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed we can get to the finish with no problems.”
Sunday the final day, to complete the event in prefect symmetry the eighteen stage rally rounded off with another six stages. Breen resumed his ultra cautious drive over the morning loop by dropping 37 seconds as he continued his precautionary surge to the finish line. Reaching midday service his lead stood at 2 min 42 sec but with only 46 km’s the end was in sight.
Over those closing three stages Andersson continued to narrow the gap as Breen slowed to all but a crawl. But the Irish driver’s happiness and relief bubbled to the surface as he reached the end of the final stage, when he knew he had clinched the championship, “I really couldn’t have done this without everybody’s support and good wishes so I’d like to take this moment to thank each and everyone of you. It’s the perfect tribute to Gareth too and I am so happy to have won this title for him.”