Craig Breen is indisputably one of the most highly-rated young rallying stars around, having used the springboard of an outstanding debut season in the sport in 2009 to gain invaluable WRC-level experience with M-Sport in 2010 – and now he is building up to what he is very well aware could be 'a life-changing week'.
Last December, Breen capped an incredible 'learning year' in rallying by seeing off no fewer than 15 rivals to triumph in the prestigious Fiesta Sport Trophy International (FSTI) Shoot-out, earning him the coveted opportunity of a year's first-hand experience of a world-class operation in Malcolm Wilson's M-Sport outfit in Cumbria. Reflecting now on a season that yielded glory in FSTI, FST UK and FST Ireland, the 2009 Young Rally Driver of the Year admits it was quite a ride.
“It was tough,” the Irishman told Crash.net
of his first full campaign in the sport, adding that he could nonetheless never even have dreamed of the kind of success he would achieve. “I was thrown in at the deep end, in a couple of hard championships with a lot of competition.
“It was intended as purely a learning year, to learn the concept and the set-up and the team. The big emphasis was on learning – not on winning rallies – but from the minute I got in the car I had a really positive feeling with it. I started testing in December, 2008 and my feeling in the car was always pretty natural, so I thought it would go quite well and it was looking like being a good season – but not quite as good as it turned out to be!
“What we achieved was completely beyond my expectations. We carried so much momentum from the start to the finish, everything went to-plan and it all went so quickly! We won everything – it was just perfect! The shoot-out was then just a really fantastic way to complete the season.”
Having attracted off the back of that a lucrative sponsorship deal with leading energy drinks brand Kick Energy – what he acknowledges was a 'massive' endorsement of his talent and potential, and one that has 'opened up new doors' – the 20-year-old admits that his association with M-Sport has similarly been a real boon.
“Unfortunately, because of my rallying schedule, I've only been able to get to one WRC event so far, but I've been at the workshop learning and it's been a great opportunity for me to forge a connection with M-Sport like this,” he enthuses. “I really appreciate the opportunity.
“I'm not the most mechanically-minded of people – I'm not bad, but it's not something I'm hugely comfortable with – and now I can already understand the general basics of the car, which has helped me for sure on rallies, where I can put it into practice. That's been one of the biggest things for me, as well as getting to work with a World Rally Championship team and seeing the sheer level of professionalism involved.”
The rallying schedule to which he refers has seen in 2010 what Breen describes as 'more bad times than good times', as he has found himself bereft of the traditional 'Luck of the Irish' and alongside co-driver Gareth Roberts has retired from almost as many British Rally Championship events as he has finished.