Rally and racing; two disciplines of motorsport that can sometimes seem worlds apart.
They’re awfully hard to switch between – just ask any circuit racer trying to make the transition to the stages.
Even two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who has at this point competed in most major motorsport disciplines, felt rallying would be the biggest step away from his comfort zone possible: “I think the proper rally car is a little more… I have more respect to that you know?”
But this weekend the switch was going in the opposite direction. M-Sport’s Craig Breen left the pacenotes at home and headed for the south coast of England this week to take on the Goodwood Revival, a blue riband event on the historic racing calendar.
It wasn’t the first time Breen had been car racing. But it’s a rarity that he’s racing against other cars, rather than the clock.
Breen joined fellow Irishman Michael Cullen in sharing a 1965 Ford Cortina Lotus, with each of them doing a race apiece over the two-leg St Mary’s Trophy – a battle between the touring cars of the early 1960s.
Years of cutting through narrow Irish lanes over slippery asphalt – plus plenty of karting experience – clearly translated well to the Cortina and Goodwood Circuit. In a field littered with ex-F1 drivers, tin-top legends and even nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen and NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson, Breen looked like he’d been doing Revival races for years.
Lining up fifth on the grid, Breen’s baby blue Cortina was immediately up among the front-runners, with the nimble little Ford dancing through the corners far more gracefully than the hulking Galaxie being piloted by race leader Romain Dumas.
At one point early in the race Breen had climbed to third, latching onto fellow Cortina runner Andrew Jordan’s slipstream to nip past Frank Stippler’s Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA.
Stippler, though, showed why he’d been a factory Audi driver for so long, putting Breen under pressure as soon as third had been lost. Perhaps slightly overeager, Breen ran wide at the first turn on the next lap and dipped two wheels onto the grass.
Being a pro rally driver, Breen collected up his minor dabbling in off-roading quickly – but not fast enough to stop Stippler coming back through.
Breen wrapped up fourth place, well clear of Johnson behind in fifth. In a field that featured nine former Formula 1 drivers, he’d reminded onlookers that rally drivers are just as handy at roundy-roundy as point-to-point driving.
Come Sunday afternoon it was Cullen’s turn to take over for the second race, though with a grid slot at the bottom end of the top 10 and some rather lairy moments during Cullen’s stint at the wheel, there wouldn’t be a debut Goodwood podium for Breen.
That said, they weren’t far off – Breen and Cullen ended up fifth on aggregate, less than 20 seconds from the podium places.
And, in a way, rallying can claim it was victorious anyway.
Dumas, the 2017 FIA R-GT Cup champion and a regular competitor in French rallying at the wheel of various Porsches (his employer in sportscar racing), combined with Fred Shepherd to take the outright win in their Galaxie.