The 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy International kicked off during the fourth round of the World Rally Championship in Portugal, with Craig Breen taking victory in 25th overall – matching the best ever finish for FSTi runner.
Second place went to Patrick Anglade in his first WRC event outside his native Germany, while Ahmed Al Mansoori completed the podium in third.
A spectacular 2.2km Super Special stage in the Algarve Stadium marked the start of the rally on Thursday night and with thousands of fans inside the arena it was a great experience for the young drivers. Breen started as he meant to go on leading the FSTi cars home ahead of Anglade and Al Mansoori.
Day one proper saw the competitors tackle 136km of rough and rocky stages in the Algarve hills. Breen made his mark on the competition, winning all three morning stages and building up a lead over the consistent Anglade. There were just seconds between the Team Abu Dhabi drivers all morning with Al Mansoori marginally taking the edge.
SS2 saw Bader Al Jabri finish just 0.2 seconds behind Al Mansoori, although Al Jabri left himself with work to do after beaching the car at a hairpin corner on SS4 and losing just under four minutes. Denis Grodetskiy posted a strong time only 25.3 seconds slower than Breen over 22 km on SS6, an amazing feat given that the boot of his Fiesta ST had opened midway through the stage, filling the car with dust until the crew could barely see the road ahead. He continued into the last stage of the morning in a similar condition, so was relieved when he could take the car to be fixed in service. Going into the midday service, Breen led Anglade by 31.8 seconds, with Grodetskiy just 19.3 seconds behind the German and Al Mansoori a mere 0.5 seconds in fourth position.
The morning's stages were repeated for the afternoon, albeit with significantly rougher sections after the first run through. Breen took the fastest times on each stage, with Anglade always close behind him in second. Grodetskiy lost over seven minutes with a puncture on SS5, dropping him from third to last after that stage. But worse was to come for Al Mansoori, whose damaged clutch went on to affect his gearbox, bringing the car to a halt and incurring a ten minute penalty under SupeRally regulations.
Al Jabri damaged his hub on SS5, a problem which he thought he'd carried into SS7, only realising at the end of the stage that he had sustained a puncture. Al Shamsi also suffered a puncture five km from the end of SS5. With a third of the WRC field in retirement by the end of the first day, the FSTi drivers were going exceptionally well, with Breen leading the way to Anglade and then Al Shamsi.
Day two saw the cancellation of SS9 and SS12, meaning that the drivers only needed to complete four stages that day. While Breen continued his charge at the head of the field, Al Shamsi's rally came to an abrupt end as he rolled on SS10, while Grodetskiy lost time on the same stage when he hit a rock, losing the front left wheel and breaking the rear beam, ending his rally for that day.
Later that afternoon, Al Jabri was forced out of the rally when he rolled in exactly the same place as team mate Al Shamsi on the second pass of the stage. Breen's luck changed when he suffered a front left puncture on SS13, nine kms from the end. Fortunately the Irishman had built up a big enough cushion over the chasing Anglade not to affect his time. Al Mansoori took his first stage win by just 3.1 seconds to Anglade. In another day of high attrition that witnessed nearly 40% of the field having stopped, four Fiestas now remained.