Craig Breen and the Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16 score a hat-trick on the Azores
Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen made his third trip to the scenic FIA ERC Sata Rallye Azores (4th to the 6th of June).leading the FIA European Rally Championship and determined to stretch his narrow three point advantage by taking his third ERC round win in a row. Known for its sandy gravel roads that carve their way around the volcanic island of São Miguel the rally rates amongst the favourites for many of the drivers and though clearly enjoyable it is one of the most challenging events of the championship as drivers can often experience multiple seasons in one stage.
The rally got underway on Thursday morning with a qualifying stage where Craig and his co-driver Scott Martin were setting the pace from the start when they posted fastest time in their Peugeot 208T16. This allowed them to be the first crew to pick their road order position for leg one that started with three stages that evening. On loose surface events it is preferred to run lower down the order and so Craig chose to run fifteenth, the lowest option available to him.
The opening stage of the leg was the now famous “Grupo Marques” quarry spectator stage and Craig taking no risks on the short test set third fastest time but went on to top the time sheets on the two remaining stages to hold a 1.4 second lead overnight. For the opening stage on Friday morning Craig and his main rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz were wide awake and gave spectators a preview of what was in store. The FIA ERC title contenders were separated by only 0.1 seconds in Craig’s favor through the 6.9km stage and after extending his lead a little more over the next one the Peugeot Rally Academy driver was determined to create a much bigger gap to the chasing pack on the spectacular dormant volcano Sete Cidades stage that lay ahead. A spin put pay to that intention and as the cars reached the midday service in Ponta Delegada Craig found himself in second place trailing Kajetanowicz by 6.7 seconds. Following some minor set- up changes to the 208T16 Craig topped the times on the remainder of the day’s stages to retake the lead by 2.3 seconds overnight.
Saturday may have only had six stages but it proved to be a thrilling spectacle for rally fans as they watched the battle unfold between the Pole and the Irishman. Kajetanowicz drew first blood and snatched the rally lead by half a second on the opening stage even though he felt he had chosen too hard a tyre compound for the slippery surface. It was much the same for Craig through it but he seemed to suffer more than his rival. It was vice versa on the penultimate stage before service and the Peugeot Rally Academy crew took full advantage and reaching the midday point back in the lead with an 11.9 second cushion. It was all or nothing as the Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16 rolled out of the final service with a fresh set of rubber to tackle the remaining three stages. The championship rivals were so closely matched up until then Craig was going to have to dig deep to have any hope of extending his lead, and dig he surely did resulting in and amazing display of his driving talent that not only extended his lead but saw him take his third European Rally Championship win of the season by over a minute. At the finish Craig said “I came to the Azores with one objective, and that was to win the rally, I am so happy with the reliability of the 208T16, I’m on top of the world at the moment.” Craig has now pulled ahead in the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship standings on 117 points, with Kajetanowicz on 103 points.