Breen pushes hard for Finnish victory
The battle for the 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy International title looks set to go right down to the wire after Craig Breen marked his return to the competition after a two-event absence with a victory at Neste Oil Rally Finland. The result moves him back up to second in the standings and closes the gap between the Irishman and championship leader Patrick Anglade of Germany.
Ireland's Breen (21) and co-driver Gareth Roberts (23) finished the event in 26th place, just 20.1 seconds ahead of championship newcomer Jussi Kumpumaki (18), making the fourth round of the championship the most closely fought so far. Anglade managed to hold onto his overall lead with a third place finish.
For all nine Fiesta STs entered in the event, Rally Finland turned out to be a huge test, not only their driving skills, but also of their bravery on the ultra-high speed stages around the forests and lakes close to Rally HQ in Jyvaskyla.
It was Finn Kumpumaki and co-driver Mikael Korhonen (24) who took first blood in the FSTi battle in front of feverish home support at the Killeri trotting track for the traditional opening Super Special Stage, edging out Anglade on the 2.06km course with Castrol Ford Team Turkiye's EmreYurdakul (26) and Burak Erdener closely following in third.
But Breen dominated the early proceedings on Day 1 taking victory on the forest roads of the classic stage Jukojarvi, with Anglade in second place ahead of Kumpumaki. Such was the pace of the Irishman on the flowing Finnish roads, that he was catching the cars in front of him. Despite this, he notched up a second stage victory on SS3 with Anglade's second place moving him ahead of Kumpumaki, who overshot a corner, losing him 20 seconds in the process.
In a titanic battle of the three leaders on SS4, German Anglade (21) and co-driver Bjorn Rohm (29) snatched the stage win by less than a second from Kumpumaki, with Breen in third. Team Abu Dhabi driver Majed Al Shamsi (29) had to leave the day's competition after they had misjudged a corner on SS4, left the road and broke a driveshaft.
Despite a heavy landing on a jump on SS5 the German managed to finish second, just behind Kumpumaki and ahead of Breen to keep the three-way battle at the head of the standings alive going into the midday service.
Battle resumed on the second pass over the stages with Breen returning to winning ways on SS6 ahead of Yurdakul and Kumpumaki, who both leapfrogged Anglade. The young Irishman took victory on the next three stages with Anglade and Kumpumaki exchanging blows behind him. But it was the Finn who thrived in the electric atmosphere of the Super Special Stage again finishing on an equal time with Anglade, with Yurdakul in third.
Conditions were entirely different for the drivers on Saturday morning after overnight rain had soaked the stages to the south-west of Service Park in Jyvaskyla. Kumpumaki made the most of damp conditions finishing first on the opening two stages of the day with Breen in second and Anglade in third on both. Bader Al Jabri (24) was unlucky to hit a rock on SS12, damaging the car's lower arm and, unable to replace the wheel, he was forced to withdraw from Day 2 and re-entered on Sunday under SupeRally conditions.
With his Finnish rival looking to encroach on his lead, Breen pulled out all the stops on the rutted roads of SS13 to take the win ahead of Kumpumaki and Anglade. But it wasn't long before the Finn put his local experience to good use taking victory on SS14 ahead of Breen and Anglade. He closed the gap on leader Breen to 30 seconds with victory on SS15 as the Irishman finished second and the German third. Al Shamsi's Fiesta suffered from a broken driveshaft on SS15, again forcing his retirement from the day and another SupeRally penalty.
Breen and Kumpumaki continued to battle for the rest of the day, taking two further stage wins each with Breen maintaining his 30 second cushion despite constant pressure from his nearest rival. Behind them, Anglade finished third on all stages but SS17, where Yurdakul broke into the top three again.
Kumpumaki pulled out all the stops on the final day to try to catch Breen, taking stage wins on SS20 ahead of Breen and Anglade and on SS21, with only Burcu Çetinkaya (28) and co-driver Çicek Guney (27) breaking the dominance of the leading three drivers to grab third place behind Breen when Anglade rolled. The German's car ended up on its side over a jump and he lost a minute on his rivals as a group of spectators helped get him back on the road.
Breen, however, did not let his rival out of his sights and, with SS22 cancelled, all he had to do was make it safely to the end of the short final stage of the rally to take his second victory of the year.
FSTi winner Craig Breen (21) from Ireland said:
"Competing against Jussi [Kumpumaki] was sheer brilliance. It's the best rally I've ever done - we were both at ten-tenths all the time. His time was so close to mine on the long Stage 19 and I was absolutely on the limit. Jussi is extremely fast and I know I did well to beat him. But we did what we needed to do and I'm absolutely thrilled. The gap between Patrick and I is now 40 points, so I expect that we need to take wins in both Spain and Rally GB in order to seal the championship."
FSTi Round 4: Driver by driver
Craig Breen (IRE) -- A virtually flawless performance from the young Irishman has put him right back in contention for the FSTi title. A brush with a barrier on SS12 caused only minor cosmetic damage to the car. The Irishman did a superb job in driving the car to victory under such constant pressure from fast Finn Kumpumaki. Nine stage wins.
Jussi Kumpumaki (FIN) -- The young Finn showed his raw speed throughout the event, but was caught out on Friday morning when he lost 20 seconds on SS3 as he overshot a corner. He continued to push on Day 2, but lost another 15 seconds on SS13 when his engine cut out after a jump. With just 30 seconds between himself and leader Breen, he put all of his efforts into catching the leader on Sunday, but lost a further 10 seconds overshooting a corner on SS20. Make no mistakes, this was a very promising WRC debut from the 19-year-old Finn. Twelve stage wins.
Patrick Anglade (GER) -- The championship leader damaged his suspension following a heavy landing from a jump on SS5 and that was followed by an excursion off the road on SS6. Lacking experience on the treacherous Finnish roads, he backed off on Day 2 whilst suffering from understeer and possible engine woes. On SS18 he landed on the nose of his car after a big jump, damaging the gearbox mount, sumpguard and radiator. A roll on SS21 lost the young German further time, but he was helped back on the road by spectators and was able to continue to the finish. Two stage wins.
Emre Yurdakul (TUR) -- Despite a largely trouble-free event, the 2008 FSTi champion and 2008 rally winner struggled to match the pace of the leaders on many of the stages.
Ahmed Al Mansoori (UAE) -- The young Emirati and co-driver Killian Duffy (26) reveled in the ultra-fast roads on Day 1 of the event, although Al Mansoori (22) was caught out by his speed on SS13 as he clipped a bank and rolled the car. Losing only around one minute to get the car back onto its wheels again, he managed to return to service where the team patched up the Fiesta which had incurred mainly panel damage, although he incurred a one-minute penalty for leaving service six minutes late. Brake problems on section two of Day 2 slowed his progress.
Burcu Çetinkaya (TUR) -- After a trouble-free start to the rally, Çetinkaya's car was hampered by an intermittent brake problem on Saturday morning, resulting in an unfortunate excursion off the road at the end of SS12. The crew managed to extract the car and continue, but lost over four minutes in that stage and had to drive without brakes on SS13 before she could return to service.
Bader Al Jabri (UAE) -- After making a cautious start to the rally, Al Jabri and co-driver Stephen McAuley found more confidence over the famed Finnish jumps while making changes to their pacenotes. After hitting a rock 7km into SS12, the crew struggled to change the wheel, losing around 17 minutes and the damage forced them to retire from Day 2. Al Jabri lost 35 minutes to SupeRally penalties, but was able to restart on Day 3.
Majed Al Shamsi (UAE) -- Brake failure on Friday morning saw Team Abu Dhabi driver Al Shamsi and co-driver Allan Harryman leave the road and damage the driveshaft of their Fiesta ST. Returning to the rally under SupeRally conditions on Saturday morning, Al Shamsi was slowed as he caught the cars ahead of him and his problems continued on SS11 as the Fiesta ST suffered a coolant leak which forced the Emirati to back off. A broken driveshaft on SS15 forced him out of the day. He restarted on Sunday with 60 minutes of SupeRally penalties.
Denis Grodetskiy (RUS) -- Grodetskiy and co-driver Safiony Lotko suffered the worst possible start to the event when they misjudged a corner and slid the car into the barriers on the Super Special Stage on Thursday night. A lack of confidence in his pacenotes hampered the Russian's early progress on Friday morning. Damage to the radiator caused by a rock led to the engine overheating, bringing his rally to a premature end on Friday.