Made up of a succession of crossroads, a wide section and finishing on the large corners of a gravel circuit, the Rally de Portugal shakedown last Thursday was varied… without particularly reflecting the characteristics of the event itself. Craig and his co-driver Scott Martin completed five passes. On their third attempt, they set the thirteenth fastest time. Later on that afternoon, the crews drove onto the Guimarães podium for the ceremonial start of the rally. The first stage was contested in the evening on the Lousada rallycross circuit.
On Friday morning, the service at the start of the second leg was a busy one for the Citroën mechanics, who discovered an oil leak on Khalid Al Qassimi’s C3 WRC. On SS2, Craig and Kris Meeke moved up to join the frontrunners. On SS4 – the final stage of the morning – the team-mates were then involved in a three-way tie for the stage win along with Ott Tänak! At the end of the morning loop, Craig was fourth, 1.4s adrift of the leader. Despite suffering a broken damper a few kilometres into SS7, Craig managed to hold onto fourth position. The Irishman lost a few more seconds on the two Braga super special stages, ending the leg 12.9s behind the rally leader, Tänak.
After spending most of the opening leg on roads near the Spanish border, day two of Rally de Portugal was contested to the east of Porto, in the Cabreira mountains. The longest day of the weekend featured two runs on a loop consisting of three stages. Craig and Scott began the day in fifth place, after the stewards adjusted Thierry Neuville’s time on SS7, moving the Belgian up to fourth. On the first stage of the day, the no.8 C3 WRC crew’s lack of knowledge of the event proved costly, as they lost a position. On the next two speed tests, Craig took advantage of a couple of racing incidents to move up the overall standings. He made it to the mid-leg service in fourth position, 46.2s behind the leader. The second pass on the stages proved to be trickier for Craig. On Amarante 2 (37.55km), the Irishman paid the price for a mistake with his tyre choice. He opted for a mix of soft and hard compound Michelin LTX Force tyres, but as the rear tyres became worn, he spun, losing around twenty seconds in the process. Ott Tänak took advantage to move ahead of him into fourth position, by 2.8s.
Following two long days, the third and final leg was more like a sprint finish, featuring four short stages contested without a service break. The famous Fafe stage was contested twice, the second pass serving as the Power Stage. Once again, Craig Breen’s lack of experience in Portugal showed. Unlike his direct rivals, the Irishman was competing on these stages for the first time. Since he held a healthy lead over his nearest challenger, he could afford to take his time in getting his bearings. After this final stage, Craig and Scott claimed yet another fifth place, just as they did in Monte-Carlo, Sweden and at the Tour de Corse. The Anglo-Irish crew lie seventh in the Drivers’ World Championship.
Craig after the event said “It looks like I’ve signed up for fifth place for the season! It’s been another good weekend for us. We were one of the fastest on Friday and in all likelihood, we would have led the overall standings had we not hit a rock and broken a damper on SS7. We had a little bit more difficulty matching the pace of the leading cars on the next two days. I think there were several factors at play, but it was mainly down to my lack of knowledge of the stages and not having such a good starting position. We’ll keep working and try to do even better in Sardinia.”