FRESH from his SWRC class- winning success in the Monte Carlo Rally at the weekend, Ireland's top up-and-coming rally star Craig Breen continues his hectic schedule of competition at the Rally Finnskog on Saturday week, February 4.
The Norwegian event serves as a tune-up for the following week's Swedish Rally (February 9 to 12), where Breen will face vastly different road conditions to last weekend's World Rally Championship opener.
The Waterford ace bucked the trend of his successful 2011 WRC Academy series campaign, when he was invariably the pacesetter but often hit problems as he adopted a conservative approach to his first 'Monte'.
His SWRC class debut provided the maximum points return following the late departure from the fray of long-time leader P-G Andersson of Sweden, whose Proton Satria Neo S2000 suffered an in-car fire following a fuel leak.
The reputation of the Cote d'Azur classic for unpredictability and treacherous conditions was true to character as Breen tip-toed through from Wednesday to Sunday, shrugging off several punctures and all too often finding himself on the wrong tyres during special stages.
With Welshman Gareth Roberts on pace, Breen finished 14th overall, taking the early lead in the standings in the Super 2000 WRC class, which had a disappointing entry of just three cars for the series opener.
Despite the poor class turnout, Breen ranks his latest success as amongst the most accomplished of his fledgling career.
"This is unbelievable, I'm just delighted and so happy with this victory. We came here with a plan and it's worked perfectly," said Breen, who turns 22 next week.
"Our task was made easier when P G (Andersson) retired. It handed us the lead but this has been the toughest event of my career.
"We've had to contend with every type of weather imaginable, tyre choice has been a lottery throughout the five days, we were always making a compromise on the varying road surface on each loop of stages.
"The 'Monte' is just so technical, this is my first time to compete here, it's been repeated so many times that a driver needs to gain experience on this event, building a good set of notes (pacenotes).
"This is a great start to the season, we have 25 championship points heading to Sweden in February and having already done the event in a S2000 last year, hopefully there we'll be able to push from the start."
Breen and Roberts now turn their attention to Norway with their Kel-Tec Ford Fiesta S2000, which will provide the perfect training for the snowy rigours awaiting them in Sweden.