Craig Breen’s hopes of a first European Rally Championship podium of 2020 ended on stage 12 of Rally Hungary, with his Hyundai i20 R5 grinding to a halt while running in second place.
Factory Hyundai driver Breen looked set to pick up Team MRF’s first podium finish of the year with a comfortable second position, with a minute in hand over Grégoire Munster in third after the Telkibánya stage.
But on Kőkapu his run to the podium came to a sudden end around two miles from the finish line with a mechanical issue.
The exact reason for Breen’s retirement remains unclear but his MRF team-mate Emil Lindholm said Breen had removed one of the wheels after parking up.
“[It was] downhill braking to a slippery slow left-hander. His front-left wheel was off. I don’t think he’s coming along any time soon,” said Lindholm at stage end.
Breen had actively backed off in an attempt to lock down his second position, going only seventh and 11th fastest across the opening Erdőbénye and Telkibánya tests.
“I took it very steady, very slow, I’ve got two spares in the back,” said Breen after Erdőbénye, where he was 7.7s off rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen’s pace.
“I just want to make it to the end of the rally. I would like to take a cut in there as you can make time very easily. But that’s for another time.”
Mikkelsen continues to lead the rally on his comeback to competitive action after nearly a year out, with well over a minute in hand over Hyundai junior Munster.
Norbert Herczig, who is now the sole remaining Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver after last year’s Rally Hungary winner Frigyes Turán withdrew overnight, has moved into third after Breen’s demise.
But Herczig is now under pressure from a resurgent Niki Mayr-Melnhof, who is back on the pace after left-rear contact knocked his Ford Fiesta Rally2 out of alignment and cost him over a minute on Saturday afternoon.
Mayr-Melnhof went from seventh to fifth on Telkibánya as Marijan Griebel had a high-speed spin in fifth gear and fell to ninth, and also usurped Rally Team Spain’s Efrén Llarena on raw pace.
A second-fastest time on Kőkapu closed the gap to Herczig to only 3.4s, ensuring a first ERC podium finish remains in reach for Mayr-Melnhof.
Llarena remains in the hunt for a maiden ERC podium of his own, 4,1s behind Mayr-Melnhof.
Oliver Solberg and Callum Devine spent the first three stages locked in a close fight, swapping places on every stage so far on Sunday.
Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo driver Solberg moved ahead on Erdőbénye, but a second-fastest stage time from Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy’s Devine on Telkibánya moved him back ahead and into seventh after Griebel’s spin.
They swapped places again on Kőkapu as Solberg scored fastest time, beating Devine by 11s and moving up to sixth, with Devine remaining seventh after his compatriot Breen’s retirement.
Griebel is only 8.2s behind Devine in eighth, while Erik Cais leapt straight from 12th to ninth on Kőkapu with third-fastest time, his rise up the leaderboard helped by Simon Wagner crashing out on Telkibánya.
Devine’s new team-mate Josh McErlean completes the top 10.
Leading positions after SS12
1 Mikkelsen (Škoda) 1h25m53.8s
2 Munster (Hyundai) +1m30.0s
3 Herczig (Volkswagen) +2m05.5s
4 Mayr-Melnhof (Ford) +2m08.9s
5 Llarena (Citroën) +2m13.0s
6 Solberg (Škoda) +2m21.3s
7 Devine (Hyundai) +2m32.1s
8 Griebel (Citroën) +2m40.3s
9 Cais (Ford) +3m33.8s
10 McErlean (Hyundai) +3m41.5s