BY FRANK CRAIG
Chris Breen has put all Irish Tarmac Championship ambitions to one side as he bids to win the Joule Donegal International Rally this weekend.
The Waterford native has taken the previous four rounds of the Irish Rally series in his Ford Fiesta R5, but like a number of his rivals, has decided to switch to a more powerful WRC Fiesta ahead of Friday.
Garry Jennings, a former Tarmac champion and two-time Donegal winner, will be behind the wheel of his WRC Subaru. Other contenders like Declan Boyle, Desi Henry and Sam Moffett, are also switching to their WRC cars.
And while that will no doubt increase their chances of winning the rally outright, it does rule them out of scoring points for the overall Tarmac title.
Coincidentally, current three-time Donegal champion Manus Kelly won’t be driving a WRC car this time out. Instead, the Glenswilly man will be behind the wheel of an R5 Hyundai.
Breen – determined to return to the World Championship after losing his place in the Citroen team at the end of 2018 – admits he’s enjoyed the cut and thrust of the domestic scene this season.
He said: “I’ve really enjoyed the whole set-up, doing rallies back home again this year. To be honest, myself and Paul (Nagle) needed a bit of a break. The whole thing in the World Championship had turned into a bit of job more than anything.
“I think if I told myself at six of seven years of age that rally was going to end up as a job, other than enjoyment, I’d have given myself a kick up the arse.
“It’s definitely served that purpose this year, doing the events back home. It’s been amazing. It’s the people that make it. The competition is great but just being around good people, good friends… I’ve been on a different path the last number of years.
“But to be back and having fun has been fantastic.”
Breen’s return to home shores has, so far, been seamless and he’s four from four. But he says he’s been pushed hard in all of his outings to date.
He explains: “To be honest, at the start of the year when we said we’d go to Galway everyone was saying it’d be a runaway thing. The moment I put the entry in I said ‘I’ll guarantee you the boys won’t be a million miles away and that ‘I’ll have to work for this’.
“Especially when we’ve got roads so specific. These guys are doing it year in, year out. They’ve got it off to a fine art. You can’t just land and expect to win. These guys are at a serious pace.
“It’s great training. It’s kept us sharp. It says a lot about the form back home. The Irish Championship is definitely in a very good position at the moment. The stages are the best in the world.
“You will not get roads anywhere else like it in the world. If you put boys from any other national championship on those roads they’d be lost. They really are that special. We’re so lucky we have what we have.”
If Breen is to maintain his perfect start he’ll need a change in fortunes from his previous visits to the North West.
“I don’t actually have a massive amount of experience in Donegal,” he said. “I think it was 2010, I left most of the poor Fiesta behind me in Fanad. So I’m looking forward to getting back up there.
“I think it was 2013 with the Escort, in the modified or the ‘big rally’ as they call it. That was three years later and I still found pieces of the old Fiesta when I was up recceing!
“It’s a rally I haven’t had a massive amount of luck at. I’ve never made it back to the Mount Errigal (Hotel) on the Sunday evening. It’s one of the classics.
“300km – I stand to be corrected – but I don’t think there is another rally as long as that outside the worlds. It’s something we can be very proud of.”
Donegal’s uniqueness, it’s three-day run, makes it an endurance event as much as a rally one.
Breen says it challenges the body and mind to the limit. And it’s still by far the severest test out there in terms of car durability.
“It’s three big days,” he said. “The roads are notorious. So it’s technical, it’s bumpy. It’s severe on a car, on the transmission, the suspension, on everything.
“It’s a challenge in its own right to just get through the three days. I’m not in the parish so there are guys up there that really, really want to win this rally.
“I’m going to have to get used to a new car. It’s going to be a difficult rally for me.”
(FRI 8TH. – SAT. 16TH. JUNE) With the National Hyundai Open Weekend clashing with the Donegal International Rally ,...