Round two of the 2014 FIA European Rally Championship – and the first outing of the season for this year’s Peugeot Rally Academy squad – saw Craig Breen secure a podium finish in Latvia, but Stéphane Lefebvre was stopped in his tracks in his bid for ‘Junior’ honours. The latter were claimed by the Czech Republic’s Jan Cerny, also in a 208 R2.
The Peugeot Rally Academy’s 2014 programme got off to a challenging start when Craig Breen (207S2000) and Stéphane Lefebvre (208R2) had to settle for snow-free conditions for their pre-event test-run ahead of the rally. The evening before the start, however, more than 10cm of snow fell over the region and the weather for the opening day of competition turned out to be cold and windy.
Craig Breen up against the specialists
Craig Breen and his co-driver Scott Martin were familiar with their 207S2000 and hot the ground running to start strongly, despite preferring to take things cautiously in the treacherous conditions. It was near-impossible to survive the first leg without making any mistakes, yet the Peugeot pair completed Saturday in third place, just behind two specialists of this type of terrain: Finland’s Lappi and Russia’s Gryazin. “To be honest, I don’t think I can catch them,” admitted Craig after Day 1. “They are really going well and I don’t have enough experience of these conditions to match them. I will try to focus on finishing on the podium, and I could well actually be in a good position if one of them makes a mistake as they battle for victory…” The Irish driver and Peugeot Rally Academy’s technical staff took advantage of Saturday’s end-of-day service to fine-tune the 207S2000’s set-up for the snow and Craig went on to defend third spot all the way to the end of the 12-stage event.
“It’s nice to kick off my season and also celebrate my 24th birthday with a top-three finish! My car handled really nicely but the two guys out in front were just too fast. That was my farewell outing in the 207S2000 and I can hardly wait to get behind the wheel of the 208 T16 in Greece…”
Stéphane Lefebvre: deprived of the benefits of a strong drive
Once again, the Peugeot Rally Academy’s youngest representative produced an assertive first day run, but things didn’t go entirely in his favour. The Frenchman, who has registered for the new European Junior Championship, collected two fastest times in what was arguably the most competitive class of the rally. Stéphane and his co-driver Thomas Dubois started the rally with the suspension of their 208R2 set up too hard and they tended to lose their studs over the longer stages. The crew was unable to correct the problem at once since the first day’s midday break was only a remote service zone. Saturday evening’s service allowed them to sort out the issue, however, and they were far happier with their settings for Sunday’s action which saw them fight back from sixth to third spot in the 'Junior' standings, just 37s behind the pacesetter Jan Cerny (208R2) and 30s adrift of Immonen who was Stéphane’s big rival on this event in 2013. “I’ve got a great feeling with my car now and I feel I can push,” he noted. “I think I can win the next stages and perhaps even challenge for the victory; it’s doable…” Unfortunately, the engine of the French youngster’s 208R2 failed on SS9 and he was unable to reach the finish. The ‘Junior’ win ultimately ended up in the hands of Jan Cerny, the Czech Republic’s 2013 two-wheel drive champion in a 208R2, who beat local driver Immonen by a margin of 18s.
2014 Latvia Rally classifications, videos and information: www.fiaerc.com
Peugeot Sport: www.peugeot-sport.com
Next PEUGEOT RALLY ACADEMY outing…
January 31-February 2 – Latvia: C. Breen (207 S2000) and S. Lefebvre (208R2)
March 28-30 – Acropolis (Greece): C. Breen (208T16) and K. Abbring (208 T16)
April 17-19 – Ireland: C. Breen (208T16) and K. Abbring (208 T16)
May 15-17 – Acores (Portugal): C. Breen (208T16), K. Abbring (208 T16) and S. Lefebvre (208R2)
June 19-21 – Ypres (Belgium): C. Breen (208T16), K. Abbring (208 T16) and S. Lefebvre (208R2)
August 29-31 – Barum (Czech Republic): C. Breen (208T16) and K. Abbring (208 T16)
October 23-25 – Valais (Switzerland): C. Breen (208T16)
November 6-8 – Corsica (France): C. Breen (208T16), K. Abbring (208 T16) and S. Lefebvre (208R2)