Ir­ish­man signs up for ex­panded cam­paign with Citroen in 2017

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By David Evans

Craig Breen has se­cured a two-year deal with Citroen to be part of its World Rally Cham­pi­onship pro­gramme and he is the first Ir­ish­man to land a top flight seat.

The 26-year-old will join Kris Meeke and Stephane Lefe­b­vre in the French cars.

“I still can’t be­lieve it,” Breen said. “It still hasn’t sunk in. This means so much to me, but it’s also fan­tas­tic for Ire­land to fi­nally have a driver in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship full time, I’m so proud to be able to say that.”

The Water­ford driver will share a car with Lefe­b­vre at the start of 2017 be­fore get­ting his hands on his own ma­chine.

Craig Breen has made his­tory by be­com­ing the first Ir­ish driver to se­cure a full-time fac­tory seat in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship – and he’s done it by learn­ing how to re­lax.

Breen, and co-driver Scott Martin, was con­firmed at Citroen Rac­ing for the next two sea­sons, where he joins fel­low Emer­ald Is­lan­ders Kris Meeke and Paul Na­gle. Stephane Lefe­b­vre and Gabin Moreau have also been con­firmed, while United Arab Emi­rates driver Khalid Al-qas­simi and Chris Pat­ter­son will drive a lim­ited pro­gramme in a fourth Citroen C3 WRC.

Breen was told on the sec­ond day of the Tour of Cor­sica that he’d landed his dream deal.

“I still can’t be­lieve it,” Breen told MN. “It still hasn’t sunk in. This means so much to me, but it’s also fan­tas­tic for Ire­land to fi­nally have a driver in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship full-time, I’m so proud to be able to say that.

“But I have to thank a lot of peo­ple, not least Yves and Citroen, but Sheikh Khalid [Al-qas­simi, Abu Dhabi Rac­ing chair­man] as well – I wouldn’t be here with­out them. My fam­ily and friends as well, the sup­port from them has been just in­cred­i­ble; they have put ev­ery­thing into this for me. My mum’s away vis­it­ing my sis­ter in Aus­tralia, so she’s been scream­ing down the phone at me – it’s been a pretty mad few days!”

Breen has been in­creas­ingly hard to ig­nore this sea­son with a se­ries of strong re­sults cul­mi­nat­ing in a stun­ning drive to third over­all in Fin­land in the sum­mer. Prior to that his hopes of full-time em­ploy­ment in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship looked to be fad­ing af­ter a dif­fi­cult two years chas­ing the Euro­pean ti­tle in a trou­ble­some Peu­geot.

“I’ve got con­sis­tency this year,” he said, “that’s re­ally helped. The pre­vi­ous cou­ple of years, we had a lot of re­tire­ments and some dif­fi­cult pe­ri­ods. Just be­ing able to fo­cus on the driv­ing this year has made such a dif­fer­ence for me. To be hon­est, from the first mo­ment I stepped into the DS 3 WRC at the test be­fore Swe­den, I felt com­fort­able and that feel­ing’s just got bet­ter and bet­ter.”

Breen added that work­ing with a fa­mil­iar team at Citroen has also made a big dif­fer­ence for him.

“Ob­vi­ously I’ve known Kris for a long time,” he said. “Paul’s co-driven for me and Stephane and I were team-mates be­fore and have been good friends for a long time. Sheikh Khalid has been fan­tas­tic and his co-driver Chris [Pat­ter­son] is some­body I know re­ally well

from home as well. All of this has helped, the fam­ily at­mos­phere in the team is fan­tas­tic.

“I know this maybe doesn’t sound so pro­fes­sional, but it’s how I feel: I’ve been jump­ing out of bed ev­ery morn­ing and com­ing to work with a big, big smile on my face and a spring in my step. As much as any­thing, I’ve been able to re­lax this year and, for me, that’s where the dif­fer­ence has come.”

Breen ad­mits he needs to re­main in that re­laxed state of mind into next sea­son.

“Get­ting this deal has taken a big weight off my shoul­ders,” he said, “but I fully un­der­stand it will be re­placed by a dif­fer­ent kind of pres­sure and ex­pec­ta­tion. But I know I can man­age that now if I stay re­laxed and do my own thing.

“My tar­get for next sea­son was to make that step up and chase a podium re­sult – I’ve done that now, so we have to look for­ward again. I know it’s go­ing to be tough at times, I haven’t done any long-haul events yet, so I still need some ex­pe­ri­ence. What I want is to main­tain the rate of pro­gres­sion I feel I’ve shown in this sea­son. If I can do that, then I can de­liver and I can per­form – I’ve got to, there’s a very big brand be­hind me now!”

Meeke will con­test the full cal­en­dar of ral­lies next sea­son while Breen and Lefe­b­vre will share a sec­ond C3 on the first five events be­fore a third car ar­rives, most prob­a­bly in time for round six in Por­tu­gal. Af­ter which, Meeke, Breen and Lefe­b­vre will tackle all rounds.

Team prin­ci­pal Yves Mat­ton ex­plained that a three-car plan had to be fast-tracked fol­low­ing the news from last month’s World Mo­tor Sport Coucil that three driv­ers would be el­i­gi­ble for points.

“It’s not re­ally clear for the mo­ment, but the first plan is Por­tu­gal for three cars,” he told MN. “When I had to take some de­ci­sions about or­der­ing some main parts for the new car, we were or­der­ing for two cars and now it’s a three-car cham­pi­onship. It was dif­fi­cult to go back and or­der for three cars, which is why they [Breen and Lefe­b­vre] will al­ter­nate at the start of the year. And I want to man­age two cars be­fore we start work­ing with three.”

Mat­ton said he saw next sea­son as a year build­ing to­wards a ti­tle chase in 2018. “We will be back for the cham­pi­onship [in 2018], but next sea­son we want to fight for vic­to­ries, that’s the tar­get: to win some ral­lies in 2017.”

More im­me­di­ately, Breen will con­test the next two rounds of this year’s cham­pi­onship in Spain next week and in a fort­night in Wales.

Lefe­b­vre is ex­pected to re­turn to the squad fol­low­ing his re­cov­ery from a Rally Ger­many crash for Rally GB.

“I can’t wait for these events,” said Breen.

“It’s go­ing to be fan­tas­tic to go there with­out so much pres­sure and just drive. This re­ally is the dream for me; it was the dream for Jaffa [Gareth Roberts, Breen’s co-driver who died in 2012] and me to get to this place in our ca­reer. I know he’s with me by my side.”

Breen has shone on his 2016 out­ings

Fin­land podium was marker

Ir­ish­man Breen has landed the chance of a life­time with the Citroen team

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