The title fight tactic Breen has already deployed

Craig Breen's Monte Carlo performance had a hint of the Sébastien Ogier about it according to Richard Millener


All eyes were, rightfully, on the two Sébastiens at this year’s Monte Carlo Rally. They dominated the rally, the headlines, social media, everything.

It’s easy to get distracted from the fact neither is part of the main storyline this year. Monte was wonderful but it wasn’t a key moment in the title race. At least not on the surface.

Those who will likely feature as title protagonists this year all had somewhat quiet weekends. But while most of us were distracted by the captivating tête-à-tête taking place up front, tactics were already afoot among the full-timers.

For Craig Breen, his objective was clear. Learn the car, don’t crash, and put some decent points on the board. Nothing flashy. Keep it simple. Those were the orders handed down to him.

He delivered those orders perfectly, bagging a podium by keeping his head down while waiting for those around him to hit the skids in true Monte style.

That podium finish was sorted by the end of Saturday. Elfyn Evans had dropped out of third by beaching his Toyota precariously on the edge of a steep drop, Thierry Neuville’s damper failure stunted his bid for the top three, Ott Tänak had binned it into a rockface and team-mate Gus Greensmith had been nursing a misfire. Job done.

With no Loeb and Ogier in Sweden, Breen was set to be the de facto leader of the title-chasing pack. And that was a problem.


Road-sweeping is a thing in Sweden. Before any studs on the tires can cut through to the icy base below for maximum traction, they must first cut through a layer of snow. As the first car on the road, Breen would effectively be driving a purple snow plow.

Points mean prizes, they say. But Breen elected to defer where those points might come from.

There were five on offer on the Monte powerstage. He opted not to chase any of them, taking it nice and easy to the finish. So easy that he was the slowest Rally1 car by a mile.

Instead, Kalle Rovanperä scored the lot, moving ahead of Breen in the championship. Breen was betting on recovering those points further down the line in Sweden.


“That was kind of what I was hoping for really,” Breen confessed to DirtFish.

“It all worked out well in the end. Every car we can have in front of us will be an advantage.”

It’s only one car ahead of him. But one is better than none.

Rovanperä had been chasing his tail at the start of the rally. His pace had been barely sufficient to lead WRC2, never mind to compete with the big boys.

But as the rally progressed, it started to click. He found more pace. He adapted his driving style – previously silky smooth on the brake – to be more aggressive. He found the missing pace and a stage win was on the board by Saturday.


Perhaps he got a little carried away. He’d made incredible progress. But sticking his Yaris at the top of the timesheets on the final stage was maybe a mistake.

“It was not so optimal now when we won the powerstage,” he admitted to DirtFish.

“We are going to start first in Sweden, so a bit of cleaning to do there.”

Almost by accident, he’s taken the opposite bet to Breen. Get points on the board as quickly as possible – the future is unknown.

”You need to get all the points you can and let’s see what we can do in the rest of the races.”

One driver has bet on red, the other black. The roulette wheel will continue spinning until we reach the finish of Rally Sweden. Only then will we know whose bet has paid off.

M-Sport team principal Richard Millener has backed Breen’s overall approach. Play it safe, play it smart. Evans had been pushing and keeping pace with the leading pair, then binned it. Breen had taken it easy when he wasn’t feeling comfortable.

Even though Evans was in the same garage as the reigning world champion, it’s Breen that Millener felt was the most Ogier-esque last weekend.

“Let’s look at the guy who’s winning the rally at the moment,” said Millener on Saturday evening, before Ogier had picked up the puncture which would hand Loeb victory.


“One of his key strategies to winning championships is being consistent and knowing when’s a good time to go for it and when’s not. And Craig I think has that mentality.

“Starting this morning at a sensible pace, we’ve moved up and we’re now on the podium. It’s a long rally, it’s a long season, and we have to remember that the top two guys at the moment are not doing the full championship.”

All bets remain off for the destination of the 2022 title. It’s far, far too early to even hazard a semi-reliable guess. But while we were all looking the other way, the first hand has quietly been played.