Before WRC Rally Poland, Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team driver Craig Breen and his co-driver Scott Martin were facing a series of unknowns. It would be the first time that Craig would drive competitively on the roads in this region of Poland, the first time to experience full gravel competition at the wheel of the Citroen DS3 WRC and as it turned out it would be Craig’s first time to drive the DS3 WRC in slippery wet conditions. Considering Craig drove the car on gravel for the first time on Monday he felt good behind the wheel immediately at shakedown on Thursday morning. His first pass intentionally slow he was determined to learn his new machine gradually and build confidence through each of the three passes over the short stage. It was an insight into how the weekend would unfold when Craig and his French team mate Stephane Lefebvre finished the standings in 9th and 10th places respectively.
Following the ceremonial start later that evening the event got underway on a 2.5km head to head spectator special and Craig vowed to take each stage as it came when the rally headed into the forests on Friday for a nine ultra-quick stages. Patches of Rain overnight were an initial concern for many of the teams but with no expectations of what to expect Craig was right on the pace of the leading pack, a very respectable 4.4 seconds down on his more match fit rivals. Although the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally team driver felt the road was starting to cut up earlier that he expected he was loving every minute of it and wasn’t shy about proclaiming it to be “the best job in the world” to Scott as they travelled at high speed towards the mid-day service halt in Mikolajki. A little mistake at a junction early on stage six along with then having to avoid a rock in the road reminded Craig of the hazards ahead. But his dreams came true when he arrived at the finish of stage seven having posted third fastest time sharing it with none other than three times World champion Sebastian Ogier. With just two more tests to complete before the evening super special it was time to stay focused and maintain a risk free pace, a strategy that almost got scuppered by Craig nudging a bale during the super special prior to the overnight halt.
After such a good first day Craig was more than looking forward to his second full day behind the wheel of the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team Citroen DS3 on gravel. Although happy with his pace through the opening stage of the day he felt a change to one of his pace notes towards the end unsettled him a bit yet he still posted fifth fastest time, moving him back up to 7th in the overall standings. On the 25.27km stage 12 he felt he was still struggling to find a rhythm and admitting to “a few slides” After his couple of moments in the previous stage Craig decided discretion was the better part of valor so brought the pace back a little on SS13. It was Estonian driver Ott Tanak that charging ahead at the front closely followed by Craig’s Abu Dhabi Total WRT teammate Stephane Lefebvre just 4.5 seconds down bringing the Citroen DS3 WRC driving duo to the midday tyre fitting Zone in 7th & 8th places in the rally. For the second loop of stages the roads were a lot cleaner than in the morning but as a consequence drivers would see rocks and stones ripped out from the surface of the road, Craig reporting “I hit the biggest mother and father of a rock in the road near the end of stage fifteen”. Overall it was another really good day for Craig and Scott. They felt they couldn’t be anything other than happy with their strong showing throughout the day.
Sunday’s final four stages beckoned and as forecast the weather that had been glorious sunshine up until then swiftly turned to rain. The slippy 21.25km of stage eighteen was Craig’s first taste of driving a DS3 WRC in wet weather. A strange smell distracted him at one point but it seemed to fade away almost as quick as it appeared. As conditions continued to worsen Craig and Scott kept their heads and slipped back in 7th to score a well-deserved points finish for the second time in as many finishes with the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team this year.
At the end of the rally Craig said “The result of this rally has exceeded all my expectations! The idea was to try and pick up where we left off in Sweden, but it was nonetheless five months since I last drove this car! I found the rhythm very quickly, setting some encouraging times on the first few stages. We were consistent, avoided making any major mistakes and made it to the end in a good position .”
- Mikkelsen / Jaeger (VW Polo R WRC) 2:37:34.4
2. Tanak / Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +26.2
3. Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +28.5
4. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +29.3
5. Latvala / Anttila (VW Polo R WRC) +33.8
6. Ogier / Ingrassia (VW Polo R WRC) +40.3
7. Breen / Martin (DS 3 WRC) +2:01.4
8. Østberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:04.6
9. Lefebvre / Moreau (DS 3 WRC) +5:12.0
10. Camilli / Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:23.1