Breen had trailed title rival P-G Andersson after Friday’s opening two stages but moved on top when a broken driveshaft slowed Andersson’s PROTON Satria Neo. Andersson attempted to make up the lost time in the afternoon with a charging display in the increasingly treacherous conditions only to go off twice on stage five, leaving Breen with an overnight margin of 3m41.5s.
“Today was just incredibly difficult, the hardest conditions I’ve ever driven in, so I’m very relieved to be here,” said Irishman Breen, who pilots a Ford Fiesta. “The conditions were changing at every corner and it’s impossible to try and push in those kind of conditions. I love the stages tomorrow, I grew up driving on Tarmac but hopefully the weather will be a kinder to us.”
Andersson, the double Junior world champion, said: “I was just oversteering and I never managed to get it back on a corner. I spun around and clipped a rock and it took the wheels out. I kept on going but the same thing happened. The car was drivable but it was not nice to drive in those muddy conditions when the car wanted to go everywhere else. I had a proper go but it didn’t work, that’s it.”
Yazeed Al-Rajhi’s outside title hopes were thwarted when the Saudi went off the road on stage five with Poland’s Maciej Oleksowicz taking advantage of Al-Rajhi’s misfortune to move into third in his Fiesta.
Hayden Paddon was another driver to falter in the tricky driving conditions when the New Zealander got stuck five kilometres into stage three and was forced to retire. “The conditions were very tricky today with a lot of rain making the roads like a skating rink in places,” explained Paddon.
Former category regular Albert Llovera returned as a wildcard entrant but was forced to retire on stage five. Alastair Fisher, making his debut for the factory PROTON team, also failed to make it through the fifth test.