Telling Craig Breen what to do right now is pointless. Craig Breen knows what he has to do. He knows better than anybody.
Yes, you’re right, he needs a podium, he needs a win. He needs to relieve the pressure. But he needs one thing above all of those things.
He needs to enjoy himself.
Breen’s always been a driver who wears his heart on his sleeve. We’ve seen on countless occasions the emotion of the moment’s never far away.
Talking to him and watching him work on Sunday last week wasn’t easy. This is the dream he’s chased his whole life and, right now, he’s not a driver living the dream.
Equally, more than most, he’s very well aware it’s far from the genuine nightmare scenario this sport can deliver.
By the team’s own admission, Finland demonstrated the Ford Puma Rally1 needs more power. Both Hyundai and Toyota delivered under-the-hood improvements at the previous round in Estonia, while the engine sitting ahead of Breen hasn’t changed significantly since its specification was set last season.
The flipside to that is the chassis. Move on to the car’s handling and Breen’s eyes light up. Beneath him he has a car that talks to him, which gives great feedback and confidence. He loves it.
And he’ll need all of that in Ypres next week. But as much as that, he’s going to need a heap of grunt to haul him out of junctions and sling him down the straights.
The time’s done with being wrapped up in the car. The time has come for Breen to focus on what he needs to do and what he can do.
A fire curtailing his pre-event test on Wednesday was far from ideal. And it’s another negative that could get into the head. Don’t let it. Back yourself.
We know he’s capable of winning in Ypres. Admittedly not against a WRC field, but he’s done it before.
The bigger win would be getting the real Breen back. Talking to him at the end of the Belgian classic last year, he could barely contain himself.
“I’ve loved every second of it,” he grinned.
When did we last hear him say that?
All drivers perform best with a smile on their face. The key is doing it when things aren’t quite so clever. How does the saying go?
“It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
I know what you’re going to say: there’s a certain Frenchman who’s pretty good at dancing in the rain beneath an M-Sport umbrella. Sébastien Loeb winning Monte Carlo, crashing out of the lead in Portugal and being pretty pacey in Africa does indeed demonstrate the car’s potential.
The French Alps opened the season and we all know two things: Loeb’s experience and pace is epic in the mountains and M-Sport is regularly quickest out of the blocks with a new car. That wider dancing in the rain thing now encompasses the whole team finding a way to make the wider car-driver package work.
Best bet with Breen? Both arms around the shoulders. Is this a comfort zone thing? Not for me. This is nothing to do with previous plans about keeping him hungry and to suggest so demonstrates a lack of understanding of Breen. Similarly, talking of him settling back and resting on his laurels is well, well wide of the mark.
He’s never been hungrier. And he’s never wanted it more.
But you can’t force it. This is not about braking fractionally later, getting on the throttle a millisecond earlier. In the modern era of the WRC, those margins are pretty much done with. With only around 180 miles of competition to play with, nobody leaves anything in the tank these days.
As much as Breen will want for more power, what he’s also chasing is that moment when things just fall into place. As we’ve said a million times in recent weeks, it’s where Kalle Rovanperä is right now. But you can’t dial it up or nail it down. As much as anything, it’s a state of mind.
The one thing Breen can do ahead of next week is prepare his head to be in that place. He’s got plans for the weekend before Ypres, and very good plans.
Those plans could be the key to finding the dancing shoes and cranking up a bit of Bonnie Tyler.