Breen’s resilience on Rally Serras de Fafe earns him Portuguese Rally Championship lead
Photo: Red Bull Media
Motorsport Ireland crew Craig Breen and James Fulton gave FIA European Rally Championship regulars a lesson in never giving up at Rally Serras de Fafe over the weekend. The Hyundai Portugal-backed team briefly led the opening round of the European series on Saturday afternoon but a double-puncture later in the day meant they started day two in 20th position overall.
The Waterford/ Cavan pairing are contesting the full Portuguese Rally Championship as part of a two-car Hyundai Portugal entry and the Fafe-based rally was the opening round of the series. Breen’s hopes of a sixth European Rally Championship event win were dashed by the punctures but he showed his world class pace against stellar opposition.
However, his main priority was to score Portuguese championship points and a string of fastest times over Sunday's loop, which included two runs over the famous Lameirinha Jump, propelled the Irish team back into the top ten. They eventually finished an incredible sixth, won the PowerStage and scored top points in the domestic championship. It was a case of what might have been and while they showed event-winning pace the double puncture was a bitter pill to swallow.
“It [the tyre] just de-beaded off the rim, it is really frustrating. speed today [Sunday] kind of makes it nice but Ideally I would have liked to have won the rally,” said Breen, “We are on top of the Portuguese championship so, mission accomplished really.”
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean also contested the gravel event as a high-speed test ahead of his entry in the Portuguese round of the World Rally Championship in May. Driving the PCRS Rallysport-prepared Hyundai i20 Rally 2, the Derry driver finished 19th making it two all-Irish crews in the top 20. Co-driven by County Fermanagh’s Brian Hoy on this occasion, ironically, they too suffered the same fate as Breen and a puncture ruined his Saturday afternoon charge. He started 29th on Sunday – another remarkable recovery drive, just like Breen.
“It was enjoyable, it was great to be back in ERC,” he said “The puncture on Saturday put us out of contention, I am sure we were on for a top ten result.”
McErlean heads to Mexico this week where he will act as team manager for Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy founder and patron John Coyne. Coyne is contesting WRC Rally Mexico and has invited Rally Academy co-driver Eoin Treacy to navigate and McErlean to oversee the operation.
“It will be a good experience for Josh to see how it all works from the other side,” said John. “He will take calls and messages on behalf of the crew from rally organisers.”
Junior World Rally Championship frontrunner Jon Armstrong and his Motorsport Ireland co-driver Andrew Browne put in a giant-killing performance to bring their Ford Fiesta Rally3 home in 20th place overall and ensuring that there three Motorsport Ireland co-drivers in the top 20. It was Browne’s first rally at this level and they were competing in a Ford Fiesta that is commonly used in the Junior World Rally Championship.
Armstrong was full of praise for his new co-driver.
“Big thanks to M-Sport Polland for putting it all together to Andrew who stepted in [at last minute] to co-drive, he did a really good job,” said the dominant Rally 3 class winner at the end of the event’s 17th and final stage.
Defending Motorsport Ireland Forestry Rally champion Patrick O’Brien and his co-driving brother Stephen made their FIA European Rally Championship debut as part of their development programme with the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy. The Skoda Fabia RC2 crew started the event on the back foot. They rolled their car on the qualification stage on Friday morning but thanks to the efforts of his own mechanics and the PCRS Team the car was re-prepared in time for Friday night’s SuperSpecial on the streets of Fafe.
“Saturday was a learning curve after the roll.
“The roads were very very rough, I never witnessed anything like ever in my life, nothing like that at home. It was a big learning curve on Saturday,” said Patrick on his way to 21st overall.
“The Sunday morning loop was kind of wet, we all expected it to be dry but it was very moist and maybe I should have been on a softer [compound] tyre.”
Irish team PCRS Rallysport was also running Tyrone’s Phillip Allen on the event. He and co-driver Dale Bowen from Wales hit a rock on the third stage of the rally. The incident broke a steering arm and punctured two tyres forcing retirement. The Hyundai i20 Rally2 crew returned to the fray on Sunday to get some more competitive miles under their belts.
Meanwhile Donegal co-driver Gary McElhinney guided British driver Seb Perez to victory in the Rally Classico Majorca in Spain in their 1976 Porsche 911.