Motor Sport News - - Review: Wrc - Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

Last year’s Au­tosport In­ter­na­tional was a cause for sig­nif­i­cant op­ti­mism for Bri­tish and Ir­ish rally fans. Kris Meeke, Paul Na­gle, El­fyn Evans, Dani Bar­ritt, Craig Breen, Scott Martin and Seb Mar­shall [Hay­den Pad­don’s co-driver] were all in Birm­ing­ham for the launch of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship and all look­ing ahead to putting for­ward a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge.

Ad­mit­tedly, Mar­shall’s would be some­thing of a bit-part pro­gramme with him and Pad­don only tack­ling half the ral­lies.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Next month Mar­shall’s back in Britain’s sec­ond city where he will be along­side Meeke and surely ready for a ti­tle tilt.

Meeke was in that po­si­tion last year. After a stop-start sea­son of de­vel­op­ment, much was ex­pected of the North­ern Ir­ish­man and his C3. It didn’t go to plan.

Breen was the first of the three to make the podium, with the Water­ford star fin­ish­ing round two in Swe­den in a stun­ning sec­ond place. And he’d done it with­out, ap­par­ently, break­ing too much of a sweat. Un­for­tu­nately for Breen, that ca­reer best re­sult would only serve to pile on the frus­tra­tion as he was benched for the next two ral­lies in Mex­ico and Cor­sica to make way for the re­turn­ing Se­bastien Loeb.

Citroen’s in­bound team prin­ci­pal Pierre Bu­dar made it quite clear this was the pol­icy of his Bel­gian pre­de­ces­sor (Yves Mat­ton, who de­parted to be­come FIA rally di­rec­tor in Fe­bru­ary) and not a de­ci­sion he had made.

A Satur­day shunt ruled Breen out of his re­turn­ing rally in Ar­gentina and then his sea­son just seemed to spi­ral down­wards, with mid­dle of the road re­sults run­ning through the mid­dle of the sea­son. And very lit­tle of that was of Breen’s mak­ing, there were punc­tures, hand­brake is­sues, rain show­ers in Ger­many – all of these things com­bined to leave him run­ning in the worst pos­si­ble po­si­tion on the road through the week­end.

It would be fair to say Breen saw lit­tle of the rub of the green this sea­son.

And then things went se­ri­ously wrong when his C3 was lost to fire in Tur­key. Fourth in Wales was a brief respite, al­low­ing him to of­fer his favoured, “Flat to the square right,” as a de­scrip­tion on more than one oc­ca­sion. If you’re still off the pace with that one, Google those five words, sit back and en­joy some qual­ity Ir­ish on­board.

Spain and Aus­tralia didn’t of­fer the end of the sea­son he might have hoped for. The Coffs Har­bour-based rally started well enough. Quick­est in Sher­wood late on Fri­day, Breen was right in the thick of the lead fight un­til sus­pen­sion dam­age on Urungu – his con­cen­tra­tion not helped by a stick­ing throt­tle on the pre­vi­ous stage – con­fined him to the lower end of the top 10.

There’s no doubt build­ing pres­sure prob­a­bly took its toll on Breen as the sea­son pro­gressed, the harder he sought a re­sult, the harder it be­came to find one. In a per­fect world, there was enough pace and po­ten­tial there to of­fer Breen an­other shot this sea­son, but only time will tell if his is the per­fect world.

It was a sim­i­lar story of mis­for­tune for Evans. Punc­tures ru­ined Monte and Swe­den, while a sixth-gear shunt left co-driver Bar­ritt see­ing stars and out of not just the Leon week­end, but also the fol­low­ing event in Cor­sica. Fifth was a solid re­sult with stand-in co-driver Phil Mills.

Evans and his more il­lus­tri­ous M-sport Ford team-mate Se­bastien Ogier strug­gled to get the best out of the car in Ar­gentina, but sec­ond in Por­tu­gal of­fered hope for the sec­ond half of the sea­son. A noddy ac­ci­dent in Tula, un­der­steer­ing into a bank on the sec­ond stage in Sar­dinia, put the mock­ers on his trip to the Ital­ian is­land and Evans couldn’t revive the speed which had car­ried him to sec­ond in Fin­land 12 months ear­lier. He was sev­enth in Jy­vaskyla this time around. More un­der­steer and more steer­ing dam­age fol­lowed in Ger­many and, by this time, the pres­sure was re­ally build­ing.

Things didn’t im­prove with bro­ken sus­pen­sion in Tur­key and a road sec­tion en­gine is­sue in Wales.

By this point, things were look­ing grim for Evans – just as they had three years ear­lier. In 2015, Evans wilted un­der the pres­sure and was a bro­ken man on the fi­nal round. Not this time. He bounced back with a sen­sa­tional drive through Spain, edg­ing Thierry Neuville – to the de­light of Ogier and the whole M-sport squad – for third place and then de­liv­er­ing an un­trou­bled sixth at the New South Wales fi­nale.

Evans, like Breen, has been bet­ter than his re­sults would sug­gest this sea­son. He’s demon­strated ma­tu­rity and self-con­fi­dence. But, if he does bag an­other sea­son in the WRC, then he has to come out and put the Ford Fi­esta WRC on its door han­dles from the very start.

The mis­for­tune’s fin­ished, Evans has had enough time at the sport’s sharp end. It’s time to start win­ning some ral­lies.

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