Craig Breen says that he does not feel the press ahead of Rally Sweden, where an opportunity has opened up to improve the podium position he achieved in the 2022 World Championship opening.
Waterford-born Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle started their first full WRC campaign with an impressive third place finish in Monte Carlo in mid-January.
But the two drivers who finished first and second last, several world champions Sebastien Loeb – Breen’s M Sport teammate – and Sebastien Ogier, will be absent in Sweden, which opens the door for the Irishman to potentially fight for a victory.
“Honestly, I’ve tried not to think too much about it,” Breen said of the opportunity and the press that comes with it, of course.
“I do not think I could have had more pressure than I had in Monte [Carlo]when we climbed up to the hills on Thursday night and then deep into the rally and I think with everything that was going on before the event – with the accident and the tests – and the 10 years of waiting to get to that point.
“But we are not at that point this weekend. I feel more relaxed and obviously I got the podium there. It definitely took the pressure off and honestly can not wait to get started now and enjoy the rally.”
The Sweden event provides the extra challenge of starting closer to the front in the snow, but it is something that Breen is looking forward to.
“It’s something I enjoy. I’ve never had to do it before on a Friday in Rally Sweden,” he told RTÉ Sports’ John Kenny.
“I have listened to the others who lead the championship in recent years complain about it and I have always been lucky to start further back but this is the joy of having a whole season. We are starting to be in a good position in the drivers’ position and I’m just very curious about how it’s going to be.
“I have no idea what I can expect and I have no idea how it will feel but I just want to give it our best shot and see how we move forward to try to keep our good start in the drivers’ championship and score goals well. points and leads us to a good position into Croatia. That’s all I’m looking for right now. “
Breen also paid tribute to Eoin McCarthy, a 22-year-old rally driver who died after a crash at an event in Co Kerry on Sunday.
“It’s desperate, desperately sad,” he said.
“I followed the rally on Sunday over here, my dad did it and it’s just devastating.”
Breen added that it also resonated with him because of the memories it brought back of his former co-driver Gareth Roberts who died in 2012 after a crash in Italy.
“Every time there is a tragedy around the world, it touches something in me because of my history but especially back home [in Ireland],” he said.
“It’s pretty close to home. He was 22 years old, just starting out in the sport, apparently from a rally family.
“At that level, it’s about pure pleasure and pure enjoyment and for it to end like that in those circumstances, it’s just a tragedy and my condolences to family and friends.”