“Surreal” Rally Monte-Carlo podium perfect start for Breen

Surreal. That’s how Craig Breen described his emotions as he completed Rally Monte-Carlo’s podium with the World Rally Championship’s two ever-supreme Sebs.

Sebastien Loeb stole the show in the south of France over the weekend, and rightly so. At 47 years of age he becomes WRC’s oldest rally winner and now matches Sebastien Ogier’s Monte-Carlo record of eight wins.

The performance of Loeb’s co-driver Isabelle Galmiche was just as praiseworthy. A faultless display on her first WRC outing with a manufacturer.

Loeb and Ogier were in a league of their own as WRC kicked off its Rally1 era with this fairytale edition.

One and a half minutes behind, Breen and Paul Nagle were in no position to challenge rallying’s greatest(s) of all time. Did they ever expect to? I doubt it. In fact, I’m sure they would have snapped up third overall had it been proposed to them ahead of the season opener.

Four top-three stage times is all Breen could manage over Monte’s three and a bit days of rallying. It has nearly been a year since we have witnessed him struggling to match WRC’s front-end pace to such an extent.

But unlike last year’s Croatia Rally, Breen was in no mood to risk positions on Monte. A smooth ride to the finish was what he wanted on his M-Sport debut. It’s what he got, plus a bit more.

As he explains, it is in Breen’s nature to take “baby steps” rather than push beyond the limits.

“I probably adapted quite slowly [to the new car],” said Breen after Rally Monte-Carlo. “But that’s my nature.

“I don’t tend to stick my neck out. I take baby steps until I get there, by the end of the weekend I was much more confident.

“Probably not having the full test day, I made some set-up mistakes and it was only on Saturday morning that these were rectified.

“Then I could grow into the car and it worked out perfectly in the end.”

Breen and Nagle’s pace strengthened through the rally as they got to grips with their new Rally1 Puma.

They weren’t alone in struggling to find top gear in hybrid machinery on Monte’s opening day. What differed from their rivals was the Irish crew’s ability to stay calm, remain on the road, and place themselves in a solid position to reap the rewards of a podium finish.

WRC rivals Elfyns Evans, Ott Tanak, Adrien Fourmaux, Gus Greensmith and Thierry Neuville all fell by the wayside. The latter two being the only ones who can pin their problems on WRC’s new machinery.

2018 was the last time Breen and Nagle competed on Rally Monte-Carlo. The Kerry co-driver was alongside Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke that time around. 2022’s season opener was always going to be a challenge for the returning crew.

Breen’s frame of mind to resist rally winning ambitions paid dividends in Monte-Carlo. Instead he took the time to learn more about the car, the rally, and pick up a healthy portion of valuable championship points.

M-Sport’s Rich Millener mentioned how this shrewdness drew parallels with Ogier’s recent title dominance. Breen and Nagle have certainly made an early impression on their new boss.

So, despite missing outright pace – Breen was down in sixth on Friday night – he leaves the foothills of the Alps with a perfect result.

It really was perfect – Kalle Rovanpera’s Power Stage win means the Finn will have the notoriously difficult task of opening Rally Sweden’s stages. M-Sport’s lead Puma will be close behind but their road sweeping task will be that little bit easier.

The Ford Puma Rally1 looks as solid as Breen and Nagle’s cool, calm, and collected performance. An effective package in the first year of Rally1 cars.

Breen took a few rallies to find his feet in Hyundai’s World Rally Car. If he can unlock the Puma’s true potential, a potential displayed by rally-winning Loeb, then Breen’s first WRC win won’t be long coming.

2022 might only be Breen’s first full-time world championship campaign but rest assured, he is as wise as they come behind the wheel of a rally car.

“For the first time in life, I’m doing a full championship and all these points are valuable now,” Breen added at the end of his post Monte-Carlo press conference.

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Photos courtesy of M-Sport

Adam Hall

Brought up in the Irish countryside, Adam was never far away from the world of rallying. From following local events like the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally, Adam now puts the stories from stages all around the world into words through his website Rally Insight.

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