Q&A with Craig Breen

Craig Breen was the fastest driver on the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally, but open bonnet pins and the cancellation of the last three stages probably cost him victory. His fantastic performance earned him the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy, and fiaerc.com caught up with the Peugeot Rally Academy driver at the finish in Greece.

You had an incredible battle with Kajetan Kajetanowicz all year, and you scored three victories. Where do you think the chance to win the championship slipped away?

“Ypres was the start of the spiral, shall we say. Luck just wasn’t on our side. In Ypres we lost our chance to win the rally and again in Estonia we lost a chance with a problem out there. In Barum, ok we made a mistake and got a puncture, but I think after Barum our chances were quite low to be honest. We went to Cyprus and Kajetan did a great job there to get the victory. It was quite a difficult task. We’ve proven our speed and got the three victories so I think we can hold our heads quite high.”

You had some amazing speed in Greece on Sunday morning, regaining the lead. But unluckily the bonnet came open which cost you the lead, which then in turn cost you the victory. What exactly happened with the bonnet?

“Ultimately the bonnet pins were open. Unfortunately the bonnet came open about a mile into the stage. When it came up at first I thought it could be a good news story because we could come to the end and only drop a handful of seconds and I was thinking of Marko Martin and Beef back in ’03 in the Acropolis Rally when they had a similar problem. And it was genuinely going through my head, what a news story that would be to win the stage or to still win the rally with the bonnet open. Because I could actually see a bit. But that was going uphill. But then we went onto the gravel the car was now more flat and I thought this was a bit more of a challenge than I thought it was. Then when I started to brake for the chicanes I could see road. Even that was quite ok, but then we went on gravel and the mud, unfortunately the first puddle we came to I put the wipers on, but they were completely blocked by the bonnet. You don’t think about it at the time, I just wanted to clean the screen. More and more mud came on the screen as the stage progressed. At the end, genuinely it was a little box about that size [size of a palm] that we could see through. We lost the rally there. I thought we’d only lost the lead, I was confident we could still win the rally but the Acropolis Rally is the rally of the Gods and the Gods sent us some bad weather so it wasn’t to be.”

You see drivers in the stage stopping to change punctures and things like that. No thought came through your mind to stop straight away and try and put the bonnet down?

“No, because I’d seen how much of a gap we had so I was quite confident it would be ok. It progressed as it got muddy and it got worse. There was no point in stopping and as it turned out the pins and the fasteners were broken so we wouldn’t have been able to find a way. So in fact if we’d stopped we’d have lost more time, we’d have lost second place too. So we made the right decision and if the rally had continued it could have been a fantastic good news story but as it was a bad news story.”

You said if the rally had continued. Obviously the final three stages have been cancelled because of the atrocious conditions. Were the organisers right to cancel the stages do you feel?

“Put me on the spot! I think it was quite a drastic decision. Ok, I wasn’t in the stages like the organisers. I’m not an organiser, I couldn’t be an organiser, I take my hat off to the organisers. But I feel perhaps there was a regroup or wait for the storm to pass, then make a decision, that would be a better way of doing it. I wasn’t in the stages, perhaps if there was a little regroup, let the storm pass, if stages were destroyed then I would 100 per cent agree, ok, it’s not the right move. It was for me a very sudden and quick decision. Last night they made a really good decision on the safety of the night stage. I trust that they did the best for our safety and the safety of everybody else.”