Academy hopeful Breen is fast learner

THESE are busy times for Craig Breen, yet another emerging Irish rallying star.

The Waterford driver, 21, seems to be a little further down the road in comparison to drivers such as Robert Barrable or Alastair Fisher, yet their paths have already crossed along the way. Like Barrable, Breen has also won the Billy Coleman award while Fisher is a fellow competitor in the inaugural World Rally Championship Academy series.

The six-round FIA WRC Academy is the first step on the WRC ladder for young drivers. It is a one-make series where all drivers compete with identical Ford Fiesta R2s prepared by M-Sport and fitted with control tyres from Pirelli. As a Pirelli Star Drive winner, Breen didn’t have to pay the €135,000 entry fee. The series winner will receive a prize fund of €500,000 to spend on developing their WRC career in 2012.

Last weekend, Breen, campaigning in a Ford Fiesta S2000 and a member of the Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club, won his home event, the Killarney-based Raven’s Rock Rally. The victory was quite special insofar as it was the 40th anniversary of the event and his father, Ray, had previously twice won the rally, in 2005 and 2008.

This was only Breen’s third outing on Irish soil this season, the others were in the forest events in Mitchelstown and Carrick-on-Suir.

His priority is the Academy series that reaches mid-point at Rally Finland at the end of the month. At present, Breen, who is co-driven by Welshman Gareth Roberts, is eighth overall — 45 points adrift of leader, Estonian, Egon Kaur. Annexing 13 points from the opening two rounds is scant reward for Breen’s endeavours. He led in Portugal but crashed out — his only consolation were points for setting fastest stage times. In the second event in Sardinia, Breen was the pacemaker once more, but a damaged sump meant he had to finish under ‘Super Rally’ rules. Nine fastest stage times over two events has shown Breen’s potential, however he really needs to win in Finland to embellish his prospects.

Even though the 45-point deficit is not insurmountable, Breen knows he faces an uphill battle.

“There’s no doubt about it, it’s a big task, but with points on offer for fastest stage times, it is possible.

“I have little option only to go as hard as possible in Finland while Egon (Kaur) can finish third and fourth and that will still keep him at the top.”

Reflecting on his first round in Portugal, he remarked, “I’m a little annoyed now, I should have been a bit more clever. The accident happened on the second day, I was comfortable, I had a good lead, but then ran out of road and got stuck. Realistically I, and indeed a number of the others, will be looking for Egon to have an non-finish, that would open it up.”

In preparation for the trip to Finland Breen has earmarked next weekend’s Rally Estonia as a competition he can use to get some mileage under his belt and get his car in tip top shape. Many of his Academy rivals, including Fisher and series leader Kaur and Molly Taylor are also competing.

“It will be interesting to compare against other drivers in the WRC Academy, I’m really looking forward to it,” he added.

Although Breen rates the Intercontinental Rally Challenge series, he reckons his future remains in the WRC.

“The IRC is a commercial championship, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great series. However, the World Rally champion comes from the WRC, that’s where it’s at.

Should things not work out in the Academy (if he doesn’t win it) Breen will look at sponsorship and a tilt at the S-WRC in 2012.

In his own words, “WRC is the future, it is where I want to be.”

Top 10 for Saturday’s Sligo Rally, round six of the Dunlop National Rally Championship

1. R Barrable/D Connolly (Skoda Fabia S2000); 2. D McGarrity/J McKee (Subaru WRC); 3 D O’Riordan/T McDaid (Subaru WRC); 4 N Maguire/E Sherry (Subaru WRC); 5 K Barrett/S Mullally (Subaru WRC); 6 G Jennings/H Blackburn (Mitsubishi EvoIX); 7 C Murphy/D Montgomery (Subaru); 8 S Moffett/J O’Reilly (Mitsubishi EvoIX); 9 J Cairns/J Cairns (Subaru); 10 T Bustard/K Bustard (Mitsubishi EvoIX).

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