Peugeot's Irish driver Craig Breen wins the Circuit of Ireland
Craig Breen’s rally week began like any other by testing his Peugeot 208 T16 over similar terrain as the event ahead but this time there was no early morning flight to some exotic location.
This was the one time during his hectic 2015 season that his Peugeot Rally Academy team would come to him and test their rally winning machine just fifteen kilometres away in south Kilkenny.
Dry in the morning and wet in the afternoon, Craig spent the day fine tuning the car set up in the changing conditions so it could best cope with the challenging bumpy roads when he and his co-driver Scott Martin arrived north of the border to take on round three of the FIA European Rally Championship the “Discover Northern Ireland, Circuit of Ireland Rally”.
Through Thursday’s short qualifying test where driver times would determine the order of choice at the road position selection ceremony later on that evening,
Craig felt he was down on his usual pace but still managed third fastest time just 1.3 seconds down on top qualifier Robert Barrable but more importantly a mere 0.8 seconds down on his European Rally Championship rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
The Peugeot Rally Academy driver chose as he qualified and began a damp leg one on Friday running third on the road topping the time sheets on all but one of the opening three stages before service.
As the afternoon loop progressed Craig found himself down on engine power again but the drying roads allowed him to use his experience to cope with the issue without hemorrhaging major time and the only signs that he showed of being hampered by it was through the two passes of the tight and twisty spectator stage in Newtownards dropping his advantage in the rally overnight to only one second.
If Craig was ever going to achieve his life-long ambition by getting his name on the same trophy as his childhood hero the late Frank Meagher he was going to have to make Leg two on Saturday count and that he sure did.
Barrable drew first blood on the opening stage and snatched Craig’s precious circuit lead but the Peugeot Rally Academy ace fought back by setting fastest time on the next two tests in a nip and tuck battle that would see him swap the lead over and back between himself and Barrable before the mid-day service.
The battle resumed over two visits to the short Lisburn stage and both drivers claimed a victory each but it was clear that Craig’s power issue had been finally cured by the engineers of the Peugeot Rally Academy and he was on a charge.
When the pressure is on small mistakes have big consequences and it was Barrable that suffered first when he slipped off the road and out of the rally on SS16 gifting Craig the comfort of an almost twenty second lead with just two stages to go.
Luckily Craig escaped his own close calls on those remaining stages to realize his dream and take a hard fought rally win by 6.4 seconds over his championship rival Kajetanowicz.
Craig and the 208T16 now take the lead of the FIA European Rally Championship and the ERC Tarmac Masters Series.
It was a Good week-end in Ireland for the Peugeot Rally Academy with the 5th place of Craig’s team mate (Charles Martin – 208T16) and Diogo Gago-208R2 (4th in Junior) You can keep up to date with Craig’s 2015 season by visiting www.craigbreen.com or www.peugeot-sport.com