The battle for seats in the World Rally Championship is just as competitive as the chase for rally wins these days. The most regular duel being that of Craig Breen and Dani Sordo for Hyundai Motorsport’s third and final i20 WRC.
Breen and Sordo have shared WRC appearances so far this season; Sordo claiming fifth on Rally Monte-Carlo while Breen managed fourth on Arctic Rally Finland.
One upshot of Andrea Adamo’s decision to make two drivers fit into one seat is the additional pre-rally narrative I am about to delve into – who will drive Hyundai number three on Rally Croatia?
Personally, I believe Croatia offers the perfect opportunity for Hyundai’s Irish crew to sample an all-asphalt world rally for the first time in over two and a half years.
Breen and Paul Nagle showed what they could do with a blank canvas on Rally Estonia and the Arctic Rally. The high-speed gravel and snow stages of those two events couldn’t be more different from the twisting asphalt of Croatia. But crucially, like Breen’s last two WRC outings, Rally Croatia is new to the series.
Is there a better platform for Adamo to gauge exactly where Breen and Nagle rank amongst their peers on asphalt?
Breen may be lacking WRC seat-time in asphalt trim but he has tackled his fair share of tarmac stages since Rally Germany in 2018.
The 2019 Irish Tarmac Rally Champion has the guts of 20 asphalt events under his belt from the past 30 months, mostly in R5 machinery. Breen has been ‘Mr. Consistent’ in these rallies. Rarely putting a foot wrong he has been the benchmark wherever he has competed.
His triumphant Irish homecoming two years ago hide arguably two even more impressive achievements that year. Wins on Rally Sanremo and Ypres helped seal his WRC return with Hyundai and he is in esteemed company as an overseas winner of the notorious asphalt rallies. For Nagle, it was a fitting way to mark 10 years since he did the same double with Kris Meeke in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
It looked as though Hyundai was banking on Breen for Ypres last year. The Irish pairing received the go-ahead to defend their 2019 win, with several preparation events scheduled through October and November. Unfortunately, coronavirus had other plans but the potential of Breen and Nagle’s Ypres defense remains with the rally penciled in on WRC’s 2021 calendar.
It’s a scenario that once again supports Breen competing in Croatia; it’s the only asphalt world rally before Ypres Rally Belgium in August.
The biggest barrier to Breen’s Croatia bid is Sordo’s equally impressive ability on asphalt. However, a close look at the WRC calendar shows how sitting out Croatia might help Sordo and Hyundai on the next two gravel events.
Portugal and Italy follow Rally Croatia; two events Sordo is capable of claiming strong results on. WRC witnessed the power of road position in Sardinia last year and skipping Croatia would put Sordo in an advantageous position as he aims for a Rally Italy hat-trick in June.
Maybe I’m looking too hard for reasons to keep Breen and Nagle in an i20 WRC for the third round of the season.
But who wouldn’t love to see what Waterford’s WRC star could do on his favoured sealed-surface stages?
It makes sense to me and I have no doubt the untapped roads through central Croatia will give Breen and Nagle the chance to continue their strong record with Hyundai.
Photos courtesy of Hyundai and Italian Rally Championship