How Breen has made sense of “tricky” Ypres characteristics

He may have prior experience on the newest WRC round, but unique notes are also making a "huge difference"


Craig Breen has enjoyed the first day of Ypres Rally competition, in his own words, “immensely”. He finds himself second on the leaderboard overnight, 7.6 seconds behind Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville – proving that, on these roads, experience really does go a long way.

Breen and Neuville are the only two among the 10 top-flight drivers to have contested the Ypres Rally before as the event makes its World Rally Championship debut this weekend.

It showed on several of the morning’s stages in particular as, while the Hyundai duo were setting stage times within a second of each other, the next quickest competitor was over five seconds further adrift.


Breen did lose a bit of time across the afternoon loop – shortened by one stage on safety grounds – but he still finds himself in a very strong position after Friday’s stages.

Neuville has twice as many starts as Breen and is a Belgian native, but Breen is a past winner and has done the rally enough times to have a real feel for the nature of the roads.

The key characteristics of the event are tight, square junctions, cuts, and road-side ditches. Making sense of all of those challenges is trickier than it’s perhaps expected with no on-stage furniture such as arrows or tape to direct drivers where the route goes.

That means that on the pre-event recce, extra detail needs to be added to the pacenotes in order to make sense of where all of the corners are.

It's amazing on the recce what looks so simple - of course you can see a sign, but when you land at 124mph trying to fix on a road that has no markings is incredibly difficult. That's the nature of Ypres Craig Breen

Soundbites from other leading drivers including Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans have regularly been centered on how “tricky” the event is and how difficult it can be to decipher.

A seasoned Ypres pro like Breen believes past experience of the rally is “a huge advantage”. He gave DirtFish an insight into how that experience is helping him out.

“The amount of different references I have for this rally for the braking and junctions to go around, they’re the most random of things that we have to mark,” Breen said.

“You’d be amazed how much of a difference it makes, I can say it now because it’s after recce and they [my rivals] can’t see them anymore, but it’s amazing on the recce what looks so simple and stupid – of course you can see that sign but when you land at 200km/h [124mph], trying to fix on the road that’s got no arrows, no tape, no nothing is incredibly difficult. That’s the nature of the rally.”


Asked more specifically on what things he had marked down in his notes to help, Breen said: “Small bush, there’s a crop that I asked the gravel crew to make sure we didn’t cut it between the recce [and the rally].

“There’s a jacks which is a toilet back home, we passed a jacks down at Spa, there’s a drain pipe that’s covered in a red and white jacket thing and he’s Walley, so there’s a flat one right at the Walley. There’s all sorts of everything there but it makes a huge difference.”

Breen of course is still driving exceptionally to be punching in the times that he is, but all of this accumulated knowledge he has is certainly paying dividends on a rally as unique and demanding as Ypres.

The only snag is the obstacle Breen has to clear to potentially secure his maiden WRC victory is Neuville; a driver who knows all the secrets of this rally just as well as Breen, if not better.

The pair have proved to be in a class of two, and a spectacular fight is guaranteed.