Circuit Breaker!

Craig Breen pictured with the Circuit of Ireland trophy in Belfast last Saturday, a title he has craved throughout his motor sport career.

Craig Breen pictured with the Circuit of Ireland trophy in Belfast last Saturday, a title he has craved throughout his motor sport career.

Craig Breen motors to Circuit of Ireland glory

Another life-long ambition has been scratched off Craig Breen’s ‘to do’ list following his superb victory in last weekend’s Circuit of Ireland Rally.

The 25-year-old Peugeot Rally Academy driver, along with co-driver Scott Martin, tasted glory in the Discover Northern Ireland-sponsored event, winning by 6.4 seconds from his European Rally Championship rival, Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz.

Last Saturday’s victory has propelled Craig to the top of the ERC Asphalt Master standings on 78 points, three clear of Kajetanowicz in what looks like becoming a two-horse shoot-out for the title.

Backing up his victory in Latvia’s Rally Liepaja hadn’t even crossed Breen’s mind, he admitted in the wake of his victory.

“I’d actually forgotten about Latvia!” he told the post-race press conference in Belfast. “I’ve been concentrating on this event for 25 years, since I was born, and more closely for the last couple of weeks.
“I wanted to win this so badly. I can’t express in words how much I wanted to win it. Now to come to the end, to get the trophy and see all the names that went before me, it just beggars belief in my eyes. Perhaps to some other people it’s just another rally, but for it just means so, so much.”

Following testing of his Peugeot 208 T16 in South Kilkenny last week, Craig and Scott lined up for the qualifying test on Thursday last, recording the third fastest time, 1.3 seconds down on Dubliner Robert Barrable, and 0.8 seconds behind Kajetanowicz.

A damp first leg on Friday morning saw Breen top the time sheers on two of the three opening stages before service, and during the afternoon, despite a drop in engine power, he retained a one second lead overnight.

Breen and Barrable exchanged the lead on Saturday before the mid-day service and during the afternoon’s action in Lisburn, with his 208’s power restored by his engineers, Craig hit the gas. Barrable went off road and out of the rally on stage 16, thus handing Breen a 20 second lead at a critical time in the rally.

But it was far from a glory run to the finish, as Breen staved off a few close calls of his own in the closing stages, stalling the car twice, to see off Kajetanowicz’s late charge and take the coveted trophy.

“It’s incredible,” said the victor, reflecting on his success. “I’m a massive, massive fan of Irish rallying and over the years, I’ve stood on the hedges, watching my heroes go by – Bertie Fisher, Austin McHale, Frank Meagher (RIP), who was my personal hero.

“It was the rally I always wanted to win…to have my name on the trophy is unbelievable – it’s what I dreamed of as a child.

“I’ve won two World Championship titles, but the Ravens Rock, my local rally, was the number one to win and the Circuit was the second, and now I have both…

“To put my name on the same trophy as my hero Frank Meagher is something really special. We had an overshoot and stalled twice on the last stage; I thought I’d blown it, but Scott kept my head together. I have nothing left in my body.”

Craig Breen is living the dream behind the wheel, and one suspects there’s plenty more glory ahead for this prodigious Waterford talent.

[Dermot Keyes, additional reporting by Jamie Kent]

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