- Craig Breen [Copyright: MRF Racing]

ERC: Team MRF's promising run in Rally Fafe Montelongo ended in despair

The team looked for a solid result until Saturday's run where they had double disaster.

Day 1:

It has been a successful start to the Rally Fafe Montelongo for Team MRF Tyres, taking a 1-2 on the 3.3km Shakedown stage. Emil Lindholm and Mikael Korhonen led the charge in his Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo, taking the fastest time on his third of his three runs. Craig Breen and Paul Nagle went on four runs in their Hyundai i20 R5, setting their best time on their third run.

The weather was a lottery with rain and wind sweeping across the stage, making the roads unpredictable. From wet to dry and everything in between, the driver had to display a degree of caution while searching for grip and time. MRF Tyres are continuing the development process in the European Rally Championship and the performance of the tyres under the wet and cold conditions is encouraging. Tyre choice will be an important factor to succeed on the roads in northern Portugal with changeable weather being expected through the weekend.

Saturday’s action gets underway at 9:00am local time (13:30 in India). Three loops of three stages will be run with a total distance of 95.79km. The starting order will be run to championship order with Breen/Nagle starting third and Lindholm/Korhonen starting fifth.

Emil Lindholm (Driver, Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo), said: "It was definitely tricky! Particularly on the first pass we didn’t know where it was going to be wet and dry. The tyres worked very well and offered predictability on the roads.

"The roads were getting better even if we did have a shower between our second and third run. We ran a different tyre on the third run where we gained our best time.” “We have a good feeling now and the trick is to predict the weather we are going to have. We seem to have a strong package in the rain.”

Craig Breen (Driver, Hyundai i20 R5) added: "It was tricky conditions in the shakedown today. We set the car up for dry in the start and made some changes as we went through. The tyre selection will be a key point this weekend with the changeable conditions. We are trying to develop the tyre more and more. We haven’t done a lot of running in the wet and on tarmac so far so we have to get data on that.”

Day 2:

The opening leg of Rally Fafe Montelongo offered the range of emotions for Team MRF Tyres as Craig Breen and Paul Nagle took MRF Tyres’ first stage win in the European Rally Championship while Emil Lindholm and Mikael Korhonen were forced to retire. After taking a 1-2 in shakedown the team were confident of the pace of the new development of MRF Tyres’ on wet tarmac. However, the rally was not going to be an easy one with unpredictable conditions making setup and tyre choice an impossible art.

Wet weather with fog and wind came and went. Conditions in the service park differed to those on stage and the conditions on the stage could change from the first kilometres to the last. That did not deter Breen and Nagle and Team MRF Tyres who pushed from the first stage. They were rewarded with two fourths and a third on the first loop. However, it was SS4 where they finally gave MRF Tyres’ first stage win in the ERC. Their time of 3:24.1 was 0.2 better than Alexey Lukyanuk/Dmitry Eremeev on the 6.92km Montim stage.

They continued to fight for the podium spots with Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston, Ivan Ares/David Vazquez and Yoann Bonato/Benjamin Boulloud. His day came to an end after hitting oil on SS8 and hitting a rock, tearing the rear suspension and wheel off the car. The oil from the previous competitor whose engine caused the oil spill ended the chance for the podium for the team. For Lindholm/Korhonen, their rally started strongly taking third on SS1. They continued their competitiveness on SS2 but their rally came to an end at the start of SS3.

Brake failure into the second corner of the stage saw them make violent contact with a stone wall on the exit of the corner. Coming into the corner, the car would not slow, forcing Lindholm into evasive action, spinning the car to avoid a frontal impact. The extraordinary safety structures in the Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo meant that both driver and codriver escaped unharmed but the car had a damaged roll cage and unable to be repaired in the Service Park.

However, Team MRF Tyres would seek to continue at Rally Fafe Montelongo with Breen/Nagle and the Hyundai i20 R5. The team will effect repairs to the car to return under Rally2 regulations with time penalties served for the missed stage. Sunday’s stages feature nine stages in three loops and 85.65km. Sadly for Team MRF Tyres, Events dictated that it becomes solely a development exercise rather than a fight for the podium.

Craig Breen (Driver, Hyundai i20 R5) said: “There was oil on the road and I was going round a slow corner and hit the oil and slid into a rock. It ripped off the wheel and suspension on the right rear. It was just a couple kilometres before the end of SS8. It was a great day before that. It was great to get the first stage win for MRF Tyres. We were very competitive in these conditions. The car felt good in the second loop and the weather was very hard to predict. It is a shame but we had encouraging pace in the car.”

Emil Lindholm (Driver, Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) added: "It's a bit unclear what the main cause at this point is. But to me, what happened was the second braking point of the stage, quite a fast place actually. We were in fifth gear, coming through a left and right combination. At the moment, I hit the brakes there was no bite. Already at this point, I knew we were going off. I had, at that point only the time, to pump up the brakes and get a little feedback from the pedal, some pressure, but as I said it was too late.

"So I just turned the car around as much as I could and we hit the stone wall with our rear end first. It was a big impact but lucky that we're okay –both Mikael and I. Unfortunately, the body shell is quite damaged from that incident. I mean, we were doing about 120km/h when, when we hit the stone wall, the deceleration was quite brutal. The left rear of the car is unrepairable in Fafe. It hurts because I know, this could have been a good rally for us. I mean, the whole package was working well. And especially tomorrow and the rain was supposed to be even heavier. I think we would have had a strong, strong fighting chance. But it's disappointing. That's what we got to live with.”

Day 3:

After the first stage win for Team MRF Tyres in European Rally Championship competition yesterday, today has been about tyre development at Rally Fafe Montelongo. The fight for a podium ended on Saturday afternoon after Craig Breen and Paul Nagle hit a patch of oil in their Hyundai i20 R5, resulting in them hitting a rock and ripping a wheel off. Team MRF Tyres were undeterred and returned today for the nine stages and 85.65km of competitive action. The weather in Northern Portugal was ever-changing with sun, rain and wind coming and going meaning that car setup and tyre selection was impossible to predict.

The team was able to repair the car overnight but the setup was suboptimal for Breen/Nagle. However, the kilometres were important to understand how the wet and slick tarmac tyres work in the changing weather conditions. The tyre tactics were made at the last minute in service with teams eager to see what their competitors were doing. Given the lost time and change of focus, Breen/Nagle no longer concentrated on stage times, with top five and top 10 stage times being of minor concern. The efforts were all based on data and development.

Emil Lindholm and Mikael Korhonen did not restart on Sunday with their Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo after brake failure on Saturday resulting in a heavy accident. The impact damaged the roll cage of the car which was impossible to repair in the service park. However, the team is encouraged from their performance in Portugal where Lindholm/Korhonen taking the fastest time on Shakedown and Breen/Nagle taking the stage win on SS4. Additionally, the data gathered this weekend is of vital importance for future development.

Team MRF Tyres will be back out in round four of the European Rally Championship in Hungary with the tarmac stages around the town of Nyíregyháza to test the Breen/Nagle and Lindholm/Korhonen. In the end, Rally Fafe Montelongo represented the highs and lows of rallying and Team MRF Tyres looks forward to being back on stages to continue the development and competitive push in the 2020 European Rally Championship.

Craig Breen (Driver, Team MRF Tyres, Hyundai i20 R5) said: "A difficult day because after pushing so hard yesterday it was tough to lose out of contention for the rally. We turned our attention to use it as best we can to gain kilometres on tarmac. The challenge today was to learn how to manage the tyre, how to manage what combinations of tyres you need when, especially with how the conditions were changing.

"It's not often that we can rally in so changeable conditions like this, so we have to try and use it as an opportunity and learn for the future. We have to remember that we were fighting right up at the front of the rally - right for the lead all the way. We have to remain confident and keep that in mind.”

Emil Lindholm (Driver, Team MRF Tyres, Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo) added: “It is disappointing that we went out with a brake failure so early on. We had good pace in shakedown and in the opening stage. The data that Craig and Paul are getting are important for the continued development of the next MRF Tyres product.”

Emil Lindholm

Emil Lindholm

[Note: The above is as per press release with no changes made]

[Image courtesy: MRF Racing]

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