M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener believes Craig Breen needs to be more “single minded” in order to recapture his World Rally Championship form after yet another disappointing result on Rally Japan.
Breen was in the mix after the first evening, second to Sébastien Ogier, but ironically was caught behind him on the second stage when Ogier punctured, and therefore fell to fifth.
But the rally got away from him on the very next stage when Breen couldn’t turn for a right hander and ploughed into an Armco barrier.
A first powerstage win of his career was a nice accolade to scoop at the end of the weekend, but Japan was the sixth time in the last nine rallies where Breen has had to rely on the super-rally restart rules.
Breen told DirtFish he “genuinely had no idea” how he made his mistake in Japan.
“It sounds so smart but I’m still lost at the whole thing to be honest with you,” he said. “The road turned and I didn’t.
“There were leaves there, that was obviously developing with each car that went past, but honestly I’m at a loss as to what happened, genuinely.”
Millener believes Japan was the kind of rally that “certainly has a lot of possibilities of making small errors” but suspects Breen just carried a bit too much speed into the corner.
“I had a good chat with Craig and I’m not going to get drawn into blame as to where it might have come from or why it happened, but ultimately you’re going to have to find out and understand,” Millener told DirtFish. “And it’s only Craig that can understand why it happened.
“There’s no technical issue from our side. The setup was absolutely fine. So we’ve got to understand why that corner in particular has caught him out.
“Personally I have my thoughts and that corner was very dirty compared to the others previous to it. The instant I saw the in-car that would be my view [that he came in too fast].
“But again, I go with caution. I’m not a driver, I’m not driving and it can be very easy to in hindsight [say] that’s what the problem is, but I think that’s certainly a contributing factor.”
When he signed for the team in late 2021, Breen looked like a driver capable of leading M-Sport into this new era after three fantastic podiums in a row to sign off his Hyundai stint, but his confidence has sharply declined over the last six months to the point where, after one of Saturday’s stages, he said:
“Unfortunately yesterday and the last six months have taught me that the margin I think I have is not quite there. The way things are now, if I try to push a bit something seems to happen immediately. I just need to bide my time.”
The reset that a new year brings will naturally help Breen mentally, but when asked what Breen needs to do to turn things around, Millener said he needs to choose an approach and style that works for him and stick with it.
“Ultimately the team can stand by him and help him with everything, but you can get support in any area you need if you do think you need it, but you can only change yourself,” Millener said.
It’s so easy to take in all the thoughts of everybody around you and then get completely jumbledRichard Millener
“He’s got to find a way inside himself somehow to do it. For me, you have to take in the advice and feedback from people around you that you trust, but you have to choose from that which one you think is right and stick with it.
“If you’re continually changing your mind or approach or concept it will never [work].
“I think Craig will be the first to tell you that being completely headstrong maybe like a Thierry [Neuville] or an Ott [Tänak] is not how he operates.
“He’s a people person and that’s fantastic as well. There’s benefits in that trait. But a lot of world champions are single minded. That’s more polite than I’d put it. I was going to say arseholes, but that works.
“For me when I look at general sport, I watch a lot of sport and you look at the really successful players, you can still be incredibly polite and politically correct and have a bit of a sense of humor and a serious side as well off event, away from the sporting element, but as soon as the whistle goes, or the flag drops or whatever, they are 100% committed to what they are doing and why they are doing it and their beliefs in it.
“And that’s the only way to be. And I think in most sports or a team sport like this, it’s so easy to take in all the thoughts of everybody around you and then get completely jumbled.
“So I think he has to, over the winter, re-focus, really hash out all the nonsense around him and decide really what he wants to do.”
Asked if he still feels Breen is capable of winning rallies and potentially a world title, Millener said he will “always believe that he still has it because he can put the times in and he’s shown that previously”.
He added: “This year, we’ve seen it before with people when they’ve come in to lead a team, it can be very difficult. But there’s a lot of them that had a difficult time like Craig and are now doing incredibly well. So I think it’s still possible.”
There remains the distinct possibility that Breen won’t be leading M-Sport in 2023 though, with sources suggesting he is Hyundai-bound instead.
Asked if he would be back in a Puma Rally1 for a full season next year, Breen replied: “I don’t know. All I have in front of me is Killarney in three weeks’ time, three runs up Molls Gap – that’s all I’m worried about for the minute.”