Craig Breen mastered Friday morning’s gruelling opening speed test to move into the lead of Rally Turkey in his Citroën C3.
Stage info: SS2
Çetibeli 1, 38.10km
What a way to start a brand new rally – with the longest stage of the weekend! It’s rough and tough with both fast and slow sections, add in plenty of rocks lining the road and there’s a good chance some drivers won’t make it out intact. There are so many changes between flowing wide roads and twisty rough tracks that it is impossible to remember them all and accurate pace notes are essential.
The longest and toughest speed test of the weekend was a rude wake-up call for all, but the Irishman kept cool to stop the clocks 4.8sec quicker than Hayden Paddon and demote overnight leader Andreas Mikkelsen by 4.8sec.
Breen took no risks on the twisty and rocky gravel tracks, admitting he did not know if his pace was fast or slow.
“I didn’t even know what minute I was on. It’s a survivor’s rally and I kept it in the middle of the road with no risks and went flat out when it was smooth. I just listened to what Scott (co-driver Martin) said and hoped for the best,” explained Breen.
Hanging dust in the still morning air and the low angle of the sun hampered many, although last night’s unexpected thunderstorms left damp patches in places.
Mikkelsen was third fastest in the stage, 2.5sec adrift of Hyundai i20 team-mate Paddon. The Norwegian held a 5.9sec advantage over fellow countryman Mads Østberg in the overall standings, the C3 driver unable to clear the lingering dust from his windscreen.
Paddon was fourth overall with Jari-Matti Latvala and championship leader Thierry Neuville filling the top six.
It was a dramatic start to the day for Neuville before he even climbed into his i20. A fire alarm meant the Hyundai Motorsport team had to evacuate its hotel at 5.15am and although the top floor filled with smoke, nobody was injured.
Championship rivals Sebastien Ogier and Ott Tänak were eighth and ninth overall after a tricky start, but Elfyn Evans was the only front-runner to encounter major problems.
“We lost the intercom initially. I felt a small impact and it went off but Dan (co-driver Barritt) fiddled with the connections and we got it back. Then in the dust I could see nothing and went into the bank,” explained the Fiesta driver, who dropped 40sec to hold 11th.