There are few events in the world of rallying that have reached the iconic status of WRC Rally Finland (July 28-31st) throughout its history. There are equally as few non Scandinavian drivers that have what it takes to master the terrain on offer every year. This was the seventh time that Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team driver Craig Breen would take on the challenge what is affectionately known as the Finnish Grand Prix. This year Craig and his co-driver Scott Martin didn’t exactly get off to a great start when a crash in pre event testing on Monday meant a lot of work for the team ahead of the ceremonial start on Thursday evening. Not only did they make it but a good showing through the shakedown stage earlier that day proved the PH Motorsport run Citroen DS3 WRC was more than up for the tough weekend that was in store.
Picking up where he left off in seventh on the previous evening’s street special, Craig started day one by posting seventh fastest time on the morning’s slippy opener. Immediately showing his intentions Craig went not one but two places better on SS3 which turned out to be much cleaner “and a joy to drive” as Craig put it. Although feeling he was over driving at times and making small mistakes he was enjoying the confident feeling of the DS3 WRC and with ease he moved up into 4th place in the overall standings by the end of SS5. A scary moment on SS6 saw an overshoot by design rather than risk potential damage but he lost around ten seconds. Soon after all Craig’s dreams came good when his time was was only bettered by the stage winner Ott Tanak just 1.3secs ahead. A couple of surprises in rough in places saw Craig being extra careful but as the experience grew so did the consistency. Admitting to it probably being one of the best days of his career he arrived at parc ferme overjoyed by his performance and with fifth place under his belt.
A “steady” run through Ouninpohja isn’t exactly what you’d call a lazy Saturday morning wakeup call as the crews tackled day two. Even though Craig went fourth fastest on that opening stage he felt he had gone too cautious on the second part and was relieved to find out he’d had actually moved up a place to fourth in the overall standings. When Eric Camilli had an accident on SS14 it forced the stewards into giving Craig a notional time, the outcome of which kept Breen fans guessing for two more stages. Staying focused the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team driver was finding it hard to believe he felt so comfortable at the speeds he was doing. With the timing issue sorted Craig and Scott arrived at SS17 in the final podium position. With confidence oozing from head to toe Craig was determined to try harder and secure his position. Determined to cling onto the first WRC podium step of his career Craig pushed hard, maybe a little too hard at times but he was able to cope with the pressure. A second fastest time on the final stage of the day threw down the marker for those coming behind on Sunday.
His challengers were all within twenty seconds of him but he was clearly focused enough to keep his mind on the job. Four stages of nail biting drama followed and Craig Breen brought third place and his first ever World Rally Championship podium finish home. An emotional stage end interview brought Craig and many watching to tears, “I can’t believe it. It’s the best day of my life. It’s been such a road to get here. I’m missing my main man and I know he’s looking down on me.” Craig as always remembering his late co-driver and friend Gareth (JAFFA) Roberts.