On the face of it Craig Breen’s Rally New Zealand has been an utter disaster, like so many other rallies this year.
There was so much promise when the event got underway, with Breen storming to the lead of the rally on the second stage. He looked good for it too.
For once, a relaxed, jovial Breen was behind the wheel. It begged the question: could this be the time he wins his first World Rally Championship rally?
After the opening three stages it certainly seemed possible.
And even on the fourth stage, when he failed to find the ultimate pace, he might have lost time and the lead but he was still very much in the battle.
So it came as a major blow when he slid down a bank on the following test, causing sufficient damage to his clutch that meant he had no option but to retire.
It was the exact result that Breen didn’t need. He couldn’t afford another retirement, yet that’s exactly what he was faced with. And what made it worse was the fact that he was in a position where he could realistically fight for the rally victory.
But Breen being Breen, he was very honest in his self-assessment of Friday’s incident.
We do seem to be finding that banana peel every timeCraig Breen
“I definitely was due a few kicks yesterday,” he said.
“But this sport is so cruel sometimes, you know, and you end up in a little bit of a vicious circle.
“I’m trying my best. I mean, there’s none of us here in the service park not here to give it everything we have.
“I speak even more so for everyone in the team. I’m trying to deliver results. I know what I want. The team has targets. I have targets and I don’t want to be, you know, lulling around at the back of the pace. I want to be right there, up and fighting it.
“And unfortunately, we do seem to be finding that banana peel every time.
“And it seems to be always places where others are having moments or having dramas, but they seem to be able to ride it OK and get away with it, whereas it just seems to catch us every time. But that’s just the run of luck at the minute that we can’t do much about it.”
It’s completely understandable why Breen is kicking himself. He knows more than anyone how much pressure he’s under.
In moments like this, it’s easy to get buried in negativity, but if you look at the bigger picture, Rally New Zealand hasn’t been a complete disaster for Breen.
He may have crashed, ruining any hopes of a victory, but on both Friday and Saturday – when he returned under super-rally rules – he showed that he does still possess blistering pace.
Friday may have ended early for the M-Sport driver, but as soon as he returned to the event on Saturday he got straight down to business, winning the opening stage of the day.
He then won SS10 two stages later, before claiming his third stage victory of the day on the final Komokoriki test.
With the rain coming in at various points of the day, being first on the road was probably the best position to be in. Not always, but on the whole it worked out for Breen.
In such wet conditions, there was effectively a Rally GB-type scenario at play where the first car polishes and digs into the surface and the rest are faced with increasingly more mud. But Breen still had to do the job, and he did that superbly.
Breen was happy he could register such strong pace, but nevertheless it was still bittersweet given his earlier position.
“I suppose if I can take any positive it’s that,” said Breen when it was pointed out to him that he is proving he does have great pace. “But yeah, like I said before, then it’s a little bit cruel that we have that speed.
“I really do think we could afford to be right at the front of this one if I look again today.
“OK it’s difficult to compare the road position, but honestly the feeling, the car feels great.
“I would love to been fighting up there at the front today and see what we can do, but that’s the roll of the dice that we’re getting a minute. We just have to try and move on.”
Right now, every time Breen rolls the dice he’s getting a pair of ones, but if he can keep applying the pace he’s shown on Saturday, it will only be a matter of time before he rolls the perfect pair of sixes and gets the result everyone knows he’s capable of.
Nobody can keep drawing blanks for this long.