Craig Breen says the regroup before the Arctic Rally Finland powerstage allowed him and Hyundai to identify that his driving style was “upsetting the car a little bit”.
Breen, who occupied the podium places on Friday before slipping back on Saturday, started the Aittajärvi stage with a 3.6-second advantage over Elfyn Evans, having lost 6.5s to the Toyota driver on the first pass.
But he set the second-quickest time on the powerstage, just 0.3 seconds shy of Kalle Rovanperä’s stage-winning performance, to secure fourth overall behind his winning team-mate Ott Tänak and third-place finisher Thierry Neuville.
“Honestly we tried to work really hard in the regroup when we came back and really tried to analyze the data where I was losing some time to the others,” Breen told DirtFish.
“And we were able to identify some things that were, due to my driving style, maybe upsetting the car a little bit.
“So I just tried to delete those and concentrate on carrying the speed like I knew I was in a lot of other places, and in the end that’s all we needed.”
Pressed on what those changes were, Breen said: “Honestly there were some traits that I’ve carried because of, how can I put this politically correctly, some years of difficulty in the machinery and the equipment that I had and my driving style changed somewhat.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to delete those traits that I carried over. In a car like this that’s working so perfectly and delivering you basically everything that you need, sometimes I resort back to how I was before.
“Honestly when you see it on the paper and you see it very, very clearly it’s easier for me to understand and I really tried to concentrate on going back to a more natural and a more flowing driving style and it seems to be better.”
Hyundai team principal Andrea Adamo acknowledged that Breen “slipped a bit” on Saturday but was understanding of the reasons for that.
“I think, I need to say this, that Kalle, Ott and Thierry can confirm that the levels of performance [in] this kind of car, [on] this rally which is shorter, are demanding,” he said.
“I think they need a deep use of the car and continuous use of the car to really be able to fight for the last tenth.
“Craig was not driving the car since Estonia last year basically. He did one day of testing so of course I think he was feeling the pressure, not from me, but the responsibility to bring home points but on the other hand be also fast and I think it’s not easy.
“When I say I’m happy about my team [it’s] because between these stages I saw a proper reaction that I expect to see from my people; checking the data to try to understand what the problems are, why there are problems.”
While Breen felt his powerstage breakthrough came “a little bit late” he was still able to draw positives from his weekend.
It was his and co-driver Paul Nagle’s first WRC event since finishing second on Rally Estonia in September, a result that led to Breen believing “that the goalposts had moved, so I wanted to win” in Finland.
He was particularly hard on himself after the opening stage of the rally, describing his second quickest time as “s****” as he felt others would have done more with the road position he had.
But Breen was able to acknowledge that “I have to remember my experience is still a bit on the low side” and was pleased to have contributed to Hyundai’s manufacturers points haul as well as aiding Tänak and Neuville in their drivers’ title quests, as he took points away from Sébastien Ogier and Evans on the powerstage.
“To be honest with you in the past the powerstages have been something I haven’t delivered so much on,” said Breen.
“I think when everybody really ups their game, I always felt my experience was maybe lacking a little bit and I didn’t have that last bit to give but we were right up to it today.
“Probably we got slightly bogged in one or two places and for sure we’d have lost a second or two so the potential for a powerstage win there definitely gives me motivation going forward.
“I’ve helped Ott and Thierry, but in the end also with the powerstage now giving manufacturers championship points we brought home a haul there so I’m definitely happy with that.”