Craig Breen, the reigning World Rally Academy Champion, has continued his fantastic start to the 2012 Super S2000 World Rally Championship by finishing second on this weekend’s World Rally Sweden. Breen, driving his Kel-Tech Engineering backed, Ford Fiesta S2000 took victory on the opening round in Rallye Monte Carlo, was able to back up that performance as the championship moved to the snow covered stages in Scandinavia and now has a commanding 18 points lead at the top of the SWRC championship standings. “I’m delighted with result,” said Breen as he crossed the finish line of the 24th and final stage. “But first I want to congratulate P-G Andersson on his win; he suffered horrible luck on the ‘Monte’ when he retired with only two stages to go. For myself, I’m very pleased with this result; P-G is on home and has shown some incredible speed here over the three days. I managed to score a few fastest stage times myself and I’m happy with my overall pace. It’s a great start to the season and now we look forward to Portugal in March.”
Breen, who won the opening round of the season in Monte Carlo, suffered a puncture on the first stage on Thursday night as the rally got underway with the 1.5km ‘Superspecial’ at the Karlstad trotting arena. Swedish driver P-G Andersson set the SWRC pace in the Proton Motorsport, Satria Neo S2000 and was followed by Norwegian, Pontus Tidemand (Skoda S2000) +0.9 in arrears, with New Zealander Hayden Paddon a further 1.2 seconds away in third. Overnight Breen was 7th in SWRC 9.2 sec off Andersson and placed 37th overall.
Friday, the first full day covered nine stages, eight of which were located around remote service in the town of Kongsvinger across the border in Norway. The day was concluded by the second run over the ‘Superspecial’ in Karlstad. On the morning opener (SS 2) Breen immediately jumped to 5th in SWRC and was up to 3rd after stage three, the Irish driver being elevated to 18th overall after his early attack. This charge continued on stage four, where he recorded his first fastest SWRC stage time consolidating his class and overall position.
During the morning loop Andersson and Tidemand continued to dominate the class. Tidemand grabbed Andersson’s overnight lead when he set fastest time on stage two but this was only a temporary setback to Andersson as the Proton driver retook top spot on stage three and held a 7.4 sec advantage as the cars reached midday service.
In the Kongsvinger remote service, Breen reported, “It’s been a tough morning out there; we dropped time last night with a puncture. I knew P-G would be on a charge today and from stage two I committed 100%, my reward came on stage four with fastest stage time in the class. I’m now 41 seconds down but still in touching distance and the rally has just begun. I’m happy with the morning’s work.”
The action resumed with Opakar, stage six and all remained the same at the top of the SWRC leader board with Andersson leading from Tidemand in second +6.6 seconds and Breen, third +46.9sec.
The next piece of drama unfolded on stage eight when second placed Tidemand suffered a puncture after hitting a ‘Snowbank’ and a loss of three minutes was incurred, Breen was the benefactor here inheriting the Skoda driver’s position. Over the penultimate Torsby 19 km test there was no change to the standings and this was also repeated on the final stage of the day on the Karlstad ‘Superspecial’, Breen however had more luck then the previous night and recorded fifth best time (01:41.7) just 1.7 down on stage winner and class leader Andersson.
Ending the day 2nd in SWRC and 16th O/A, Breen stated, “On the Monte, I battled all through with P-G and the pattern continues here in Sweden. He and Pontus (Tidemand) have been setting a fast pace all day. As this is only my third competitive outing on snow I must be pleased. There’s still a long way to go and tomorrow will be a very challenging day but my second place is something to fight for so let’s fight.”
Day-two featured classic stages such as Sagen, Fredriksberg and Vargasen, which also included the famous Colin’s Crest jump, named in memory of the late Colin McRae. Breen enjoyed the good run over the morning loop taking fastest SWRC time on stage eleven, Vargasen 1 (24.63 km’s) and as he came into midday service he had narrowed Andersson’s advantage to less than a minute.
At midday service, Breen said, “I’m in a good point’s position and I want to protect that. This afternoon’s loop will prove more of a challenge as the stages will be rougher.”
That afternoon loop began with SS15, the rerun of Vargasen, Andersson was back in the groove after some setup changes and pulled another 6.3 sec out of the Irish driver but Breen was more worried by handling difficulties by the end of stage sixteen, reporting a problem with the front differential from early in the stage. But on assessment on the road section to stage seventeen it was discovered to be in fact a shattered brake disc. Craig and Gareth managed to make some emergency repairs, removing the broken disc and caliper. The twenty-two year old just nursed the car through the final two stages of the day and back to final service.
With his Kel-Tech Engineering Ford Fiesta S2000 fully repaired on Sunday morning, Breen took a cautious approach over the morning loop, a light dusting of snow and temperatures down to -10 made conditions very difficult. After completing the loop Breen stated, “The conditions were very, very slippy out in the forests and here on the Hagfor’s stage the problem is that there’s less snow and rocks are coming through, so very tough and easy to make a mistake. In relation to my current position, I’m comfortably ahead of Pontus (Tidemand) in SWRC, so I just want to bring it home. There could be an opportunity to get passed Armindo Araújo in the overall standing but we’ll see what happens on the final loop.”
The final loop brought more of the same from Breen as he showed maturity, matching Tidemand’s pace over each of the closing three tests. He reported at the end of stage twenty-three, “It is really difficult on that one, there’s lots of high speed stuff and I started to lose the studs in my tyres so I’m very pleased to be here and we now only have the final ‘Powerstage’ to go.” On the ‘Powerstage’, Craig again drove with safety in mind not taking any chances and brought home his Ford Fiesta in second place in SWRC and 16th overall. At the finish he said, “I’m very please, with this result, we continued our form from the Monte. It was important to score some good points here, I knew that P-G would set the pace but he has competed here so many times and it’s only my second time here so, yeah a good result. Portugal comes next at the end of March and that will also be important, the Proton’s will not be there but Haydon Paddon should be on the pace so we now look forward to that.”