BREEN LANDS HIS WRC DREAM DRIVE
Irishman signs up for expanded campaign with Citroen in 2017
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.”