A lot has been written – and rightly so – about Craig Breen’s superlative performance on last week’s Ypres Rally.
For one of the first times in his career, Breen headed to Belgium safe in the knowledge that he had an experience advantage over the vast majority of his rivals.
He used it to devastating effect: harrying Thierry Neuville for the lead throughout the first couple of days, and he could maybe even have won the rally had he not been trailing a championship-chasing team-mate.
But there was a slip-up from Breen. As the rally moved to the Spa region for stages in and around the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Breen made his first error of the weekend.
Firing down one of the access roads, Breen overcooked his entry to a downhill left-hander on the brow of a crest, just before a tight hairpin, and rode his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC up the bank like a bobsleigh on a banked turn.
The excursion didn’t cost Breen a lot of time, but it certainly vaulted his heart into his mouth. He had got away with it, but he was aware he perhaps shouldn’t have.
“I just got caught out, we have to be very careful,” he commented on stage-end.
But the Hyundai driver has since elaborated on the error, and it turns out the devastating flooding – which has damaged property and cost people their lives in the region – may have, strangely, been Breen’s saviour on Sunday.
I just released the brake a bit too much at the top of the crest and when I went to brake a bit more it locked up and it started to even pick up speed rather than slowing downCraig Breen
“I knew about the corner from recce and I saw it was tricky,” he explained. “I was warned about it before I started the stage as it looked from the WRC Live it was quite difficult.
“I braked early enough as I braked a bit later the second time [and got round OK].. I just released the brake a bit too much at the top of the crest and when I went to brake a bit more it locked up and it started to even pick up speed rather than slowing down.”
That sensation of a car speeding up when it’s supposed to be slowing down is nasty. Anybody that’s ever driven on thick ice will be able to attest.
“Honestly, I have to thank the horrible Belgian summer that it rained so much,” Breen added.
“It made the bank quite soft as if it was a normal time of the year, for sure I would have stopped there.
“I saw somebody, I guess went slower than me on the second pass and he rolled because I think I carried enough speed in the corner [so] I managed to skip over the drain and not go off.
“As we say back home, every so often you need a rub of the green. That was the rub of the green today.”
Rallies are frequently won or lost on fine margins. How different could Breen’s event – and even 2022 WRC future – have looked had that bank been just a little bit more robust?