Ireland's Craig Breen and Cumbria's Scott Martin scored the result of their lives at the weekend when they finished 2nd overall in Sweden on this year's second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Unfortunately, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi team pairing provided the only good news from the 'home' crews.
In winning the event, Thierry Neuville became only the third non-Nordic driver to win the WRC's solitary pure winter rally and end an agonising 12-month wait after crashing out of a comfortable lead last year.
Breen grabbed second place on Saturday morning when Andreas Mikkelsen spun and despite the fervent attentions of the Norwegian's Hyundai, Breen kept his cool to hold him off by just 8.5sec at the finish.
Kris Meeke had a torrid time. Running fourth on the road, and hampered by clearing snow for the later runners, Kris suffered a fairly innocuous impact with a snow bank which damaged the turbo of his C3 WRC. That meant retirement for the day resuming the competition under Rally 2 rules.
On the other hand, Craig was delighted, saying at the finish: “I'm absolutely on top of the world! It has been an incredible weekend. I have always really enjoyed this rally in the past, but I have to say that I surprised myself this weekend in that I was able to fight at the front throughout the race, without making any mistakes. I used to think that quick rallies weren't suited to me, but that doesn't seem to be the case any more. In any event, my C3 WRC was perfect here and it's great to secure this result for the team – the guys have worked really hard for this."
It would therefore be just a bit too easy to claim that those running later on the road had an unfair advantage over those at the front. Of course those conditions did indeed hamper the front runners, but given the nature of the terrain and the changing surfaces, those who did benefit from 'cleaner' roads still had to make the most of the opportunity and not fall off or fall victim to snowbanks.The fresh snowfall ahead of the rally also greatly hampered the M-Sport squad with Sebastien Ogier effectively acting as lead snowplough. He eventually finished in 10th place overall while Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt also endured a luckless weekend finishing 11th overall after a puncture on the early stages dropped them back.
Elfyn said: "It’s not been the easiest of weekends. It’s probably fair to say that we were struggling for some pace through the early stages, but then when the puncture set us back we didn’t have any chance with the road position. It’s certainly not the weekend we wanted, so we just need to put it behind us and look forward to Mexico."
At the finish there was apparently a wee bit of 'team management' when Elfyn unfortunately incurred a time penalty which dropped him behind his team mate in the Final Results. Ogier also contrived to 'hang back' on the approach to the final 'Power Stage' so that he wasn't first on the road. The ploy obviously worked as he was second quickest, picking up a valuable 4 extra points although he has now dropped to second place in the WRC title chase behind new leader Neuville.
Rally Sweden (Torsby):