WRC2 – Craig Breen hit by misfortune again in Zlin
Following his fifth place WRC2 finish in Germany last week Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen and his co-driver Scott Martin flew straight to the Czech Republic for round seven of the European Rally Championship the Barum Czech Rally Zlin (Aug 28TH – 30TH). Based 300 kilometres south of the Czech capital Prague the rally celebrating its 45th birthday ran through a mix of villages, open farmland and forests over asphalt that can be broken in places as well as being extremely bumpy. Seeded number two Craig new exactly what was in store for him as this was the third visit of his career to the event and was hoping his previous experience would help him challenge the local specialist drivers for the rally win. Often suffering from unpredictable weather, this year was to be very different indeed as conditions saw temperatures soar into the thirties and stay there for the weekend.
As usual things got underway with a qualifying stage which this time was held on Friday morning over a 4.71km stage. It was five times winner Jan Kopecky that topped the time sheets throwing down the gauntlet too the ERC regulars. Even though Craig felt he wasn’t on the perfect tyre for the short test he still managed to post sixth fastest time just one and a half seconds down on his main focus, championship rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz. At the start order selection ceremony that afternoon Craig chose as he qualified and picked sixth on the road for leg one of the rally which began with three laps of a Zlin city centre spectator stage on Friday night.
When the cars hit the real stages on Saturday morning it was as many predicted and with no championship to consider it was the two Czech drivers Kopecky and Pech out in front. A huge accident for Robert Consani reminded his fellow ERC drivers that retirement lies around every corner and it was time to drive clever.
A little too much caution saw the Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16 suffer on SS3 and a slow puncture towards the end of SS4 saw Craig and Scott arrive into the first service halt of the day almost thirty nine seconds down on leader Kopecky but luckily only six down on rival Kajetanowicz. Unbelievably Craig picked up another puncture on the stage that followed service and as well as the two and a half minute time loss that it caused he had no choice but drive through the others more conservatively without the option of a spare. Despite choosing the cleaner lines and avoiding obvious hazards he frustratingly picked up third puncture by the end of the day and found himself more than four minutes down in eleventh place overnight.
Desperate to finish the rally and get vital championship points Craig set out with a sole goal to do just that on Sunday morning for Day 2. A fastest time on the opening stage however showed he wasn’t just going to coast through the day avoiding trouble either. Already up to eight overall by the mid-day service the Peugeot Rally Academy ace now had Hermen Kobus and his seventh position points in his sights and with only one more stage to go Kobus almost gave it to away by spinning on SS14. A mere 0.1 seconds is all that stood between eight and seventh going into the final stage and it was Craig that won the fight taking the seventh postion by 6.1 seconds. Although the rally victory went to Kopecky, it was Kajetanowicz and the ERC title fight that was most important for Craig and he confirmed this at the finish saying “Seventh is not what we came here to do but it is what it is we must look forward, we take home some championship points that might be very important when it comes to the end of the season”.