This weekend sees the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship held in Coffs Harbour and with the championship still not decided. It’s a very close battle between Sebastien Ogier (Ford), Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and Ott Tanak (Toyota) only split by 23 Championship Points. The closest battle the category has seen in many years will sure to provide some of the most intense rally action rally fans will witness.
Speed Nation was invited to interview Craig Breen last Sunday in the lead up to Rally Australia with the Rally of Sydney. A cruise around some of Sydney’s most iconic venues including Bondi Beach, Rose Bay, The Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Sydney Opera House.
Irishmen Craig Breen is a factory driver for the Citroën World Rally Team. The 28 year old has been in the WRC Championship for 3 Seasons under the Citroen banner and this year marks his second time in Australia.
Australia is the furthest you guys have to travel across the calendar. Do you enjoy coming to Australia?
I love it, my sister lives in Perth and I always make time to visit and spend time there to break up the year. I live in Andorra which is very cold during the winter so it’s always enjoyable coming here and get a bit of summer sun. The rally offers nice stages with a beautiful backdrop, it’s one of my favorite ones definitely!
What is the biggest challenge with Rally Australia?
They changed the route a lot from year to year, okay this is only my second time competing here and I don’t have a lot of experience with these stages compared to Europe. Here they chop and change the stages every year so it’s very difficult to create a database of notes. For the more experienced guys that have done it year after year they can remember some of the stages from the past few years but for newer guys like me, it makes things more difficult.
This year sees completely revamped stages with almost all of them being altered compared to the previous years. How difficult is it to prepare notes and make sure that they are right?
There is a little bit that is the same, the Sherwood Stage that is on the Friday is completely identical but a part from that it’s bits and pieces of past stages so it’s just a matter of making new pace notes and act as if it is like coming to a brand new rally. There’s nothing you can really do, you can watch on-boards from previous years and get an idea of the profile of the roads but it’s just a case of making new notes. Some people would say that it’s advantage to come into a blind rally with no expectation but it’s a massive advantage to have it from the year before. When you have to drive down a road for the first time at 200km/h and you have already done it before you will have so much more confidence in the car.
How committed do you have to be coming into new stages, is it almost flat out from the word “Go”?
You have to go flat out from the start! If you go handy on a stage, you get left behind so you have to do the best job you can in recce and then go back and refine your notes and have everything in place so you can go flat out from the first run. You’ll often find that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between first and second pass, you’ll find a bit, but it’s more the evolution of the road and how much grip you have. With how recce works now on a two pass system you have to exploit your on-boards as much as you can and not hold back.
How do you mentally and physically prepare yourself for a rally?
Naturally you have to be quite fit, it’s not so physically demanding to drive the car, okay some rallies are tougher than others for example Turkey was really warm, I think somewhere in the high 30’s to 40’s (°C), really slow and rocky so that was one of the more physical ones but it’s more about mental endurance. You have long days being up at 4 or 5am and not getting to bed until 11 or 12 at night so that’s really the biggest side of it. I do a lot of endurance training and it gives me a good awareness. The more calm you can keep yourself, the lower you can keep your heart rate, the more capacity you have in your brain to do the job at hand and it’s really the key element to rallying.
I like to cycle a lot and living in Andorra, it’s a big cycling area I really have everything at my fingertips and I do enjoy it and it’s really convenient.
How has this year been for you?
Pretty abysmal! It hasn’t been the greatest, okay, the speed was there and we are on pace with the front runners, we just need luck. Sweden has been the highlight of the year with 2nd but we really just need some luck.
If you weren’t doing this awesome job driving rally cars across the globe, what would you be doing?
Nothing! Absolutely nothing, I couldn’t even start to think about anything else. I’ve never known anything different and never wanted anything different. Ever since I was a baby and growing up playing around in karts from 4, 5, 6 years of age and racing at 8 years of age, I ended up doing World Championships Karts then started rallying when I was 19 and I have been rallying ever since, I’ve never known anything different and never done anything else and don’t want to do anything else. If I wasn’t in rallying I would be doing some other form of Motorsport.
What manufacturer would you like to see back in the WRC?
I think Subaru, everyone would like to see Subaru back again. They were the iconic brand in the 90’s and 2000’s. That would be awesome if they could come back again, Subaru and Mitsubishi are the big ones. Toyota is here, Ford is here, the rest of the iconic names from the 90’s are back so if they could come back it would be a full house.
Who is your money on to take out the Championship?
I’d say Seb. Tanak is obviously the fastest out of everybody and that’s 100% sure but he’s had so much bad luck throughout the year. If he had finished GB and hadn’t have gotten a puncture in Spain it would have been a completely different story, he would have been running away with it.
I think Seb has not pressure, he has done it before and he knows what to do whereas Thierry, this is his first time and it’s a big task. I could be wrong but I really think that Seb has the upper hand.
A big thank you to Betty from TLA Australia for inviting us along for the ride.
The Kennards Hire Rally Australia will be held this weekend up at Coffs Harbour. Be sure to watch the action because this is going to be a nail biting finish.