Pre-event talk was predominantly about Hyundai’s hike in pace. But we’ve heard these stories before. An Ott Tänak win at last month’s South Estonia Rally was a solid indication the Korean machine was on the money.
Confirmation came on the World Rally Championship’s first morning back since Rally México in March.
The i20 ended the loop running 1-2-3. Thierry Neuville’s early afternoon departure has put something of a dampener on Hyundai’s weekend, but Craig Breen says the fast rally speed is the result of hard work.
“This is just reward for the team,” Breen told DirtFish.
“It’s definitely positive and it really is a reward for the efforts everybody has put in. The car is actually pretty exceptional. I’ve been waiting a long, long time to have an opportunity to drive a car quite like this. I just tried to take it with both hands.
“Everything clicked this morning. Since the first run of the test to be honest, the car blew me away and I knew it was going to take perhaps a little bit of time to get onto it but I just settled into a nice rhythm this morning already.
“When I’m enjoying myself and I feel at home with the car, the times come. This car is just breeding confidence with every kilometer that I drive it. So I hope I get a few more.
“I’ve said it before, you feel like a bit of a superhero on some of these stages. I think these ones are some of the fastest that I’ve ever seen. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Breen – who scored two fastest times in the afternoon – added that his recent events in an i20 R5 had helped him on his first Rally1 outing since Sweden in February.
“Coming from the R5 car it’s a little bit easier driving this car,” he said.
“I do feel a little bit more secure, especially at the high-speed places. In the R5 car you have to really take some risks sometimes. Whereas in this, it just feels that bit more secure and I think it’s only when you watch the outside you actually realize how fast you’re going.”
Breen admitted he was disappointed with his pace tailing off on the morning’s last two stages but overall admitted he “shouldn’t be disappointed” with his day.
The Irishman, who was second fastest on the first three stages, added: “I would have preferred to have been that bit quicker [in SS5 and SS6], but still we have to be very, very realistic.
“[Taking] everything into account, to be second behind Ott, I’m really happy about it. I shouldn’t be disappointed with second.”
The third Hyundai of Neuville was “missing some confidence” due to a loss of traction in the early stages, but set-up changes helped him get into a rhythm before his crash.