Craig Breen’s full time future in the World Rally Championship could depend on his performance with Hyundai Motorsport in the Neste Rally Finland, round nine of the World Rally Championship that began with the mixed-surface Harju street stage in front of a huge crowds in central Jyvaskyla last evening.
For the moment at least this appears to be a one-off drive with the Korean outfit, Breen and his co-driver Killarney’s Paul Nagle were drafted in due to the Waterford man’s fine performances on this rather specialised event where he secured his first WRC podium (third) in 2016.
“Rally Finland is very close to my heart. It’s the event I’ve done the most and this year marks 10 years since I first competed here. I have a lot of amazing memories from the start of my career and my first podium in 2016. It’s a rally I always enjoy with fast roads and flying in the forests. I’m really looking forward to it in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.” said Breen.
He will be aiming to impress and although he has been without a WR drive since Citroen didn’t renew his contract, to his credit he has put himself in the shop window as much as he could with outings in the Irish Tarmac and Italian championships.
For Hayden Paddon, who had been expecting to get the drive from Hyundai, his quest is already over, he was drafted into the M-Sport outfit but crashed the Ford Fiesta WRC in a test and the car was too badly damaged to be repaired in time. As a tribute to the late Manus Kelly the M-Sport cars will carry his memorial ribbon.
Seven points cover the top three of Ott Tanak (Toyota Yaris), Sebastien Ogier (Citroen) and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai). Hyundai has a 44-point advantage over Toyota in the Manufacturer’s series with Breen’s aim to secure as many points for the Korean team.
Meanwhile, the Keohane Citimix Munster “100” Motorcycle Road Races in Glanmire will be headlined by the in-form Derek Shiels in the Burrows Racing Suzuki GSXR, who aims to continue his dominance of the current road racing scene. The popular Dubliner, who has strong links with Cork, has won eight grand finals this season.
For the race organisers it marks the return of the event that was stopped six years ago due to wet weather conditions. With surface improvements to the course there will be no such concern this time as Shiels renews rivalry with Kawasaki duo Mullingar’s Thomas Maxwell and Dubliner Michael Sweeney.
A injury in last week’s races at Armoy has ruled out top local Killeagh’s Mike Brown leaving Grenagh’s Ray Casey (Kawasaki), Kinsale’s Stephen Tobin and Ballincollig’s Stephen Casey, both on Yamaha 600’s to fly the local flag. In addition to the title sponsorship of Keohane Citimix, the organising team has also received support from Carl Nash Insurance. Most of tomorrow’s programme is taken up with qualifying but will conclude with Junior and Senior Support Races.
The 3.5-mile course begins on the old N8 at Delaney Oils and will turn left at Annacarton Bridge, left again at Crush Cross to the lefthander at Killalough Cross just a short distance from the start/finish line.
The Munster 100 Grand Final is expected to start at about 3.30pm.
The Munster Loose Surface Autocross Championship continues on Sunday with the sixth round Killarney Jimmy Devane Memorial Autocross at the Tralee Racecourse.