Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen has been adamant for a while now that only for some really bad luck in the second half of the season this year’s European Rally Championship could have had a very different outcome for himself and the Peugeot 208T16. A hat trick of wins in the first half of the season saw him leading the championship but that lead slowly slipped away after his success was replaced by continuous misfortune eventually leaving him one last chance on the championship finale to put himself and his co-driver Scott Martin on the top step of an ERC podium in 2015 again. Rallye International du Valais (October 29-31) in Switzerland is where the asphalt showdown took place. Based in the towns of Martigny and Sion in the southwest of the country the popular event has a real mix of stages that climb up mountains and down through valleys. Ranked as one of the toughest, albeit perhaps the most picturesque on the ERC schedule the rally in its 56th year was not going to be a gentle swan song for the 2015 ERC regulars. A closing round of the Swiss championship it also attracted a big entry of local experts that were sure to provide formidable opposition. As usual on ERC events Craig and Scott got their event underway on Thursday morning with a short qualifying stage for the opportunity to be the first to pick their road order position for leg one. Craig echoed his number one seeding by posting the fastest time over the slippy test, 0.3 seconds ahead of French driver Bryan Bouffier. It was a positive start to what would be a display of the Peugeot Rally Academy driver’s unhindered talent behind the wheel of the 208T16. Topping the times on all three of the opening stages that afternoon Craig was very relieved not to have picked up any punctures like the previous year and be leading overnight.
The first full day of rallying on Friday had seven stages and Craig was determined to build on his lead, but with the top ten running in reverse order he wasn’t going to take any chances on the cold slippy tarmac considering that mud could get pulled out into his path by the cars in front. Even though Craig was enjoying his driving, keeping his lines clean and had the comfort of carrying two spares he was still able to punch in the majority of fastest times over rivals Burri and Luyanuk during the day to end day two with almost a minute advantage.
The final day actually had the most competitive distance so it would be a real sting in the tail for all the crews. The Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16 was setting the pace straight out of the blocks and not only propelled itself beyond the one minute barrier but thirteen and a half seconds into it. It was from the second stage of the day that Craig began to manage his lead by doing no more than he needed to but he was never far behind the hard pushing Alexey Lukyanuk who was now locked in a battle with Olivier Burri for the second step on the podium. On the third last stage a spin on the first bend due to cold tyres was enough to grab everyone’s attention but an un-phased Craig charged on until he claimed win number four of the season, also claiming the title of the most winning driver of 2015, the Asphalt Master title and reaffirming his runner up position in the championship. Or so it appeared…… a genuine mistake by the Peugeot Rally Academy team saw Craig use twenty marked tyres instead of the allocated eighteen on his 208 T16, and he was given a two-minute penalty demoting him to second.
A devastating end to the ERC championship for Craig, Scott and the team after leading the event from start to finish without a hitch. On hearing he was struck again by bizarre bad luck Craig said “I don’t know what to say… We won the rally but unfortunately a small mistake by the team today gave us a 2 minute penalty after the rally and we lost our victory.. Just can’t believe how bad our luck has been, this has to change soon!”