Monday | 12 Apr 2021

Breen and Neuville warm-up with Italian success

Hyundai Motorsport enjoyed a perfect Croatia Rally (22 - 25 April) warm-up weekend in Italy as Craig Breen won Rallye Sanremo and Thierry Neuville claimed the supporting World Rally Car event.

Breen’s i20 R5 (pictured above) finished 4.8sec ahead of home hero Andrea Crugnola as he prepared for his factory i20 World Rally Car drive in Croatia. The Irishman’s Sanremo success backed up his 2019 win in the Ligurian Alps on roads which once formed Italy’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

“It was nice to be back in the car again,” said Breen. “I always have nice memories from this rally. And it’s good to be looking forward to Croatia, seat time is always useful ahead of these events.”

Breen’s victory was in doubt after incurring a 10sec penalty for arriving a minute late at the final control. However, the penalty was removed by clerk of the course Simone Bettati due to traffic jams on the run-in to the control.

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Team-mates Neuville and Ott Tänak also enjoyed their preparation time aboard a pair of World Rally Cars. In mixed weather conditions, Neuville won three of the seven special stages, covering 89km, with Tänak quickest on the other four.

The Belgian was fastest on stage times by 3.9sec but his winning margin was eventually 33.9sec due to penalties Tänak incurred earlier in the event. Fellow WRC regular Pierre-Louis Loubet was third in another i20, 1min 15.0sec off the lead.

For Neuville, as well as getting to grips with Pirelli’s Tarmac tyres ahead of the first all-asphalt fixture for the Italian company since returning to the WRC’s top level, Rallye Sanremo provided another useful outing with co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe.

They used the event to further acclimatise to a partnership forged when long-term co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul and Neuville parted company ahead of the season-opening Rallye Monte Carlo.

“It was really helping with that side of things,” said Neuville, “but also the weather was good and we got a good chance to try all of the tyres. That was very useful. As a test for Croatia, this was a good one.”

WRC2 regular Marco Bulacia finished 12th in the main event as he prepared his Škoda Fabia for next week’s Zagreb-based third round of the WRC season. M-Sport Ford’s Tom Kristensson became the first driver to retire a Fiesta Rally3 from competitive action when he went off in SS5.

Oliver Solberg (pictured above) was another i20 R5 entry but the 19-year-old Swede’s day ended when he slid wide and hit a rock, damaging a wheel on his car and forcing him into retirement.

• Photos by Elio Magnano and ACI Sport