Leading a WRC rally a “sweet” moment after 2022 “darkness”

Craig Breen says leading Rally Sweden is a “sweet” moment after walking through the “darkness” of a difficult World Rally Championship season with M-Sport last year.

The Irishman, who contested his first event of a partial 2023 season with Hyundai, set a blistering pace on his return to the WRC, winning three of Friday’s seven stages on the snow-covered roads of Sweden.

Breen took advantage of a favorable road position and managed to fend off a late attack from M-Sport’s Ott Tanak, the driver who took his seat on the Ford team this year, to end the day by 2.6 seconds over the Estonian to end.

The successful start to his second stint at Hyundai comes after a challenging 2022 with M-Sport, which was plagued by misfortune and a series of accidents.

Now back in contention for his maiden WRC win, Breen was clearly enjoying himself at the wheel of the i20 N for the first time in competition. After winning stage two, the 33-year-old was on the verge of tears before retiring after setting a best time on the Brattby -Etappe jokingly declared the “Mayor of Brattby”.

Reflecting on his journey back to the sharp end of the WRC, Breen admitted today was his happiest day in the Championship in a long time.

“It’s very cute, I must say,” Breen said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a while, but let’s not get too carried away. We had a good position on the road, but we were still able to use it.

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“To be honest, it was all very easy and kind of effortless. I didn’t have great moments. I’m trying to be as smart as possible and not get stuck in snowdrifts and it’s worked so far.

“You have no idea about the darkness that was last year and luckily I ride the crests of the waves when things are good but unfortunately I also ride the descents. I wear my heart on my sleeve and then you have these gobs***** behind the computer thinking they know better but at the end of the day they have no idea.

“I don’t know [why I have gelled with this car so quickly] I can’t say anything exactly but it all just feels nice and natural and I’m confident I just can’t explain it.”

Craig Breen, James Fulton, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Looking ahead, Breen is confident he can stay in the fight for victory.

“Of course we can’t go full throttle and we have to keep a little margin, but we won’t let him [Tanak] fly by, let’s put it that way,” he added.

While Breen Hyundai leads, teammate Esapekka Lappi, who is competing for a full season, is 11.2 seconds back in third place, while colleague Thierry Neuville is 36.6 seconds adrift in sixth.

When asked if Breen should be allowed to fight for victory, Hyundai boss Cyril Abiteboul told Autosport: “We have to think about the championship position but I said that I’m the person who likes it when drivers fight for wins and for Craig it would be a great moment and a great story.

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“But we are not here for stories, but for sporting moments. At this point, there’s no point in thinking about it [team orders].”

Tanak surprised to be part of the victory hunt

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

After showing strong pace throughout Friday, which included a lead heading into midday, Tanak admitted he didn’t expect to be in contention for a win in his second event driving an M-Sport Ford Puma.

“The result today is definitely positive,” said Tanak.

“We definitely didn’t expect anything like this when we came here. Of course it was hard to predict but overall it was an okay day and let’s see what we can do tomorrow.

“Tomorrow won’t be easy, we have some very straight roads so moving a lot will be quite difficult.”

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