The Irishman, contesting his first event of a partial 2023 campaign with Hyundai, set a blistering pace on his return to the WRC, winning three of Friday’s seven stages on Sweden’s snow covered roads.
Making the most of a favourable road position, Breen managed to hold off a late charge from M-Sport’s Ott Tanak, the driver that filled his seat at the Ford team this year, to end the day with a 2.6s advantage over the Estonian.
The successful start to his second stint at Hyundai arrives after a challenging 2022 with M-Sport that was plagued by misfortune and a series of accidents.
Now back in the fight for a maiden WRC victory, Breen was clearly enjoying himself behind the wheel of the i20 N for the first time in competition. After winning Stage 2, the 33-year-old was close to tears, before jokingly declaring himself the “Mayor of Brattby” following a fastest time on the Brattby stage.
Reflecting on his journey back to the sharp end of the WRC, Breen admitted that today had been his most enjoyable in the championship for a long time.
“It is very sweet I have to say,” said Breen. “I have been waiting a while for it but we are not getting too carried away. We had a good road position but still we were able to make use of it.
«It all came very simple honestly and it was sort of effortless. I haven’t had any big moments. I’m trying to be as clever as I can and not get stuck in snowbanks and it has worked so far.
“You have no idea of the darkness that went on last year and fortunately I ride the crest of the waves when things are good, but I unfortunately ride the down parts too. I wear my heart on my sleeve and then you have these gobs***** behind the computer that think they know better, but at the end of the day they have no idea.
“I don’t know [why I have gelled with this car so quickly] I can’t really put my finger on anything but it just all feels nice and natural and I feel confident with it, I just can’t explain it.”
Craig Breen, James Fulton, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1
Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport
Looking ahead to tomorrow, Breen is confident he can remain in the victory fight.
“For sure we can’t go completely flat out and we have to keep a bit of margin, but we won’t let him [Tanak] fly past let’s put it that way,” he added.
While Breen leads Hyundai’s charge, team-mate Esapekka Lappi, who is contesting a full season, is 11.2s behind in third, with fellow full-timer Thierry Neuville 36.6s adrift in sixth.
When asked if Breen would be allowed to challenge for victory, Hyundai boss Cyril Abiteboul told Motorsport.com: “We do have to think about the championship position but having said that I am the person who likes to see drivers fight for wins and for Craig it would be a great moment and story.
“But we are not here for stories but for sporting moments. At this point in time there is no point in starting to think about that [team orders].”
Tanak surprised to be in the victory hunt
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
After showing strong pace throughout Friday, that included a spell in the lead heading into midday service, Tanak admitted he didn’t expect to be fighting for a victory in his second event driving an M-Sport Ford Puma.
“The result is definitely a positive today,” said Tanak. “We were definitely not expecting anything like this when we came here. Obviously, it was difficult to predict but overall it has been an okay day and let’s see what we can do tomorrow.
“Tomorrow is not going to be easy we have some very straight roads so it will be quite difficult to make much difference.”