After claiming the last two rounds of the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) in Latvia and Ireland, Craig Breen and Scott Martin repeated their winning ways on the dirt stages of the Azores. Their third victory in a row on as many different surface types saw the Peugeot Rally Academy provide a further illustration of the 208 T16’s status as the benchmark car in the ERC. The difficult event also saw Charles Martin and Thierry Salva, who were competing in the 208 T16 on gravel for the very first time, gain valuable experience for the future. Meanwhile, Diogo Gago and Jorge Carvalho steered their 208 R2 to a podium finish in the ERC Junior class after their most polished run since the start of the season.
Craig Breen sent out an early message by posting the best time on the qualifying stage which allowed him to choose his running position, a key parameter on loose-surface rallies. Rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz won the event’s opening stage but the Peugeot Rally Academy driver responded by claiming the next two tests to complete Thursday’s action at the top of the leaderboard. The next day saw the Peugeot pair make a cautious start, allowing Kajetanowicz to recover top spot after the famous ‘Sete Cidades on which they span several times. However, four stage wins on the second loop promoted them back into the lead by Friday evening.
The duel between the two favourites continued as action resumed at dawn on Saturday when both Craig Breen and Kajetan Kajetanowicz made poor tyre choices. The Irishman succeeded in overcoming this handicap, however, to ease back ahead after SS13 and ultimately take the weekend’s spoils. He also ended up securing the highest number of stage victories, since the Peugeot Rally Academy’s 208 T16 topped the order 12 times from a possible 17. The reward was a third straight win for the 208 T16, Craig Breen and Scott Martin, and the latter have consequently increased their lead in the 2015 FIA ERC Drivers’ standings.
After promising performances at Le Touquet (French Championship) and in Ireland (ERC), Charles Martin and Thierry Salva, who were sharing the 208 T16 on dirt for the first time, arrived in Ponta Delgada with their sights set on a podium finish. They had to revise that target, though, when a gear shift problem on Day 1 and a small ‘off’ on SS8 put paid to their hopes of a strong result. But the 2014 208 Rally Cup winner knuckled down and a number of top-six stage times helped him to ninth overall and also to gain additional experience that will come in useful when his programme continues with visits to the Czech Republic (Barum), Greece (Acropolis) and France’s Rallye du Var.
A strong performance by Diogo Gago and Jorge Carvalho on home soil enabled them to collect second place in the ERC Junior classification. Helped by the competitiveness of the 208 R2, the benchmark car in their class, the Portuguese crew pushed hard and harvested four fastest times. A little over-optimism saw them loose time on SS7, however, and they were lying fourth on Saturday evening. The Peugeot Rally Academy’s junior then made a mark by winning three stages on the final day to earn second place and a big points haul to boost his championship chances. Diogo Gago was joined on the all-Peugeot Sport podium by two other 208 R2 drivers, namely Peugeot UK-backed Chris Ingram (1st) and Steve Rokland (3rd).
Winning in the Azores was the ideal way to prepare for the next round of the 2015 FIA ERC in Ypres. The Belgian classic will see the 2014 ERC Junior Champion Stéphane Lefebvre join the Peugeot Rally Academy line-up alongside Craig Breen in the team’s second 208 T16, while Diogo Gago will be back gunning for Junior honours in his 208 R2.
Craig Breen: I’m thrilled! This is my third win in a row. It also means we have now won on all three different types of surface. Everything was perfect, from the qualifying stage to the end. The 208 T16 performed faultlessly and I had tremendous fun. I can’t wait for Ypres to try to continue this winning streak!
Charles Martin: It was a complex week for us. Once we had cured the technical problem that slowed us it wasn’t easy to find the ideal pace. Towards the end, we contributed to the team effort when members of the Peugeot Rally Academy asked us to try out some set-ups that could be useful for the championship’s later gravel rounds.
Diogo Gago: I had a fantastic week. A big thank you to everyone at the Peugeot Rally Academy for their hard work on the 208 R2. After my mistake on Sete Cidades, I focused on not making any more errors. I used the last day to try to move up the leaderboard and I’m very proud to have come second because it was a tough fight. The level in the Junior ERC is very high and I am pleased with this result on my home event. It’s a big confidence booster ahead of the next round in Ypres where the stages promise to be even harder…
Final positions: 1, Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Peugeot 208 T16), 2h45m59.6s. 2, K. Kajetanowicz (Ford Fiesta R5), +1m2.1s. 3, R. Moura (Ford Fiesta R5), +2m14.3s. 4, B. Magalhães (Peugeot 208 T16), +3m4.9s… Equal 9th, Charles Martin/Thierry Salva (Peugeot 208 T16) and J. Orsák (Skoda Fabia S2000), +10m55.9s. Etc.
The next FIA ERC outing for the Peugeot Rally Academy will be the Kenotek Ypres Rally in Belgium on June 25-27:
Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre (208 T16) / Diogo Gago (208 R2)