Craig Breen denied his fourth successive season victory in Ypres
Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen went to round five of the FIA European Rally Championship “The Kenotek Ypres Rally (26th-27th of June) with a hat-trick of wins under his belt and intent on making it four in a row. The Championship leader wouldn’t have it easy though as despite the absence of his main title challenger Kajetan Kajetanowicz a host of rivals old and new were going to be tough competition.
The rally got underway on Thursday evening with a 4.79km qualifying stage where Craig and his co-driver Scott Martin posted fourth fastest time. Although this didn’t allow them first choice of their road order position for leg one Craig was able to choose second on the road at the start selection ceremony on Friday afternoon. Even if it wasn’t ideal at least the 208T16 would have a clean road ahead because the large corner cuts that the leading drivers take in Ypres can often hamper the cars further back. On each visit to this rally in the past Craig has always had trouble of some kind on the opening loop but this time out he was playing the long game to avoid history repeating itself and came to the end of the opening stage second fastest by 1.4 seconds to Dutchman Kevin Abbring. The stage that followed was Craig’s nemesis as he had never reached the end of it without picking up a puncture so a clean middle of the road approach was needed and that delivered him another second fastest time even ahead of local legend Freddy Loix. The pace was so fierce that Craig was having commit to every single bend on the slippy Belgian asphalt and he even admitted he had not felt he could “commit this deeply” for a long time on this kind of surface. As the crews reached the mid-leg service it was The Peugeot Rally Academy driver’s mature approach that saw him leading by 7.8 seconds.
Rain showers made tyre choice very difficult for the following loop and it was the local Loix that faltered by picking soft compound rubber believing the rain would persist but that was not to be the case. Stage six saw Abbring make a mistake and roll out of the event at high speed kick starting a fight for overall honors between Craig and the chasing Frenchman Bryan Bouffier but it was Craig that led overnight by 4.6 seconds.
In rally terms it was a relatively lazy start to Leg 2 but only schedule wise as the top five were on maximum attack right from the word go. In the battle at the very top it was Craig that drew first blood and stopped the clocks a mere 0.3 seconds ahead of loix but more importantly a valuable 5.4 seconds ahead of Bouffier. Craig was happy to manage his lead even if that meant losing a second here and there to an improving Loix some twenty odd seconds behind in fourth spot as long as he was driving clean and still beating Bouffier however so slightly on the stages. The plan began to go sour on stage eleven when the Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16 picked up a front right puncture near the end of the test demoting Craig one place overall by just over half a second. On a mission to recoup time mistakes lurk around every corner and on a drama packed stage twelve overshoots were order of the day.
Craig was unfortunately one of those that made an excursion into a field and although able to get back on the road and to the stage finish he had damaged the radiator overheating his engine too badly to continue. It was the local master Freddy Loix went on to take the rally win making it his tenth Ypres Rally victory.
Craig luckily keeps his lead in the European Championship but no doubt it was a great opportunity to extend it and add conquering this iconic rally to repertoire of achievements. On retirement he said “this is such a shame because I was really confident with the 208T16 and had a good feeling, we will be back”.