Abbring narrowly misses victory

Abbring narrowly misses victoryFrom Peugeot Press [ 18/05/2014 ].
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The island of Sao Miguel set the scene for an eventful weekend for the Peugeot Rally Academy's trio. Ireland's Craig Breen led after Day 1 but then retired, while Dutchman Kevin Abbring picked up the gauntlet to finish seconds short of first place as the 208 T16 collected its second ERC podium result of the year. French youngster Stéphane Lefebvre dominated the 'Junior' battle in his 208 R2.

Craig Breen: down on luck

Craig Breen and his co-driver Scott Martin were second in the championship on their arrival in the Azores and they immediately eased into the lead on Thursday afternoon. Between them, the Peugeot Rally Academy's two 208 T16 drivers won the rally's first nine stages as early rivals Kajetanowicz and Moura both disappeared after ripping off a wheel.

At this point, Breen narrowly led Abbring but the Irishman's run came to a halt after SS9, Friday's final test. He was unable to fire up his engine at the Stop Control after its coil leads had burned for a reason which has yet to be ascertained.

Kevin Abbring: in flying form

That left the winner of the 2013 208 Rally Cup in front and it looked as though the Dutchman and his co-driver Sébastien Marshall's recent spell of ill luck was behind them.

Unfortunately, their chances of victory took a blow on SS10 when their power steering belt broke, most probably because of stone damage. Forced to run without power steering for the last two stages, they dropped 45 seconds to complete the day six seconds short of Sousa.

The crew also incurred a 10-second penalty for checking in one minute late after taking time to change the offending belt on the road section back to parc ferme!

Saturday's narrow, hilly stages saw Kevin and Sébastien resume their challenge as the battle continued to rage for the weekend's victory. The Dutchman initially managed to reduce his 16-second deficit, but two small mistakes on SS13 saw him lose ground again. He then recovered to claim both SS15 and SS16 and close to within five seconds of the lead, but that was insufficient for him to steal the win.

Even so, second overall (+6.2s) was fine revenge for Abbring and his 208 T16 after his recent misfortunes. His performance was also rewarded with the weekend's Colin McRae Flat Out Trophy.

Stéphane Lefebvre: 'Junior Master' in the Azores

Stéphane Lefebvre has not disappointed in his 208 R2 after winning a budget for a 2014 ERC Junior Championship programme thanks to his victory in last year's 2013 208 Rally Cup. In the Azores, the Peugeot Rally Academy's youngest representative and his co-driver Thomas Dubois left their chasers little chance, and even a puncture 1km from the end of SS8 failed to jeopardise their supremacy. By the end of the first leg, their cushion over Finland's Immonen, their closest rival, amounted to more than 1m36s, and they even posted an eighth best time overall in the wake of the championship's front-runners.

They continued at the same pace on the last day to deal their opponents a final knockout blow. Their surefooted performance saw them claim every stage to round off an excellent weekend on the Atlantic island.

The provisional Peugeot 208 Rally Cup leader combined what was probably one of his finest wins with an eloquent 10th place overall.

Driver quotes:

Craig Breen: "The car is fast. I am pleased with the 208 T16's speed, as well as with that of Scott and myself. The problem we had in Ireland is behind us. The trouble that halted us in the Azores was of a different sort entirely. I know that Peugeot Sport is already hard at work to make sure we don't have any more problems. The aim now is to beat Freddy Loix when we got to Belgium for Rally Ypres in June."

Kevin Abbring: "Once again, the team has shown the potential of the 208 T16. We led with both cars from the start. It was my first time in the Azores and, looking back at the weekend, I am pleased with my performance. We had bad luck with our drive belt problem yesterday and that's no doubt why we didn't win. I managed to fight back but I didn't succeed in recovering enough time. We are learning all the time and we are getting to know the car better and better. I'm glad to have been as competitive as I was on my third competitive outing in the T16. Everybody worked so hard to make today's result possible."

Stephane Lefebvre: "It's nice to have taken the 'Junior' win which has put me back in contention for the title. From the outside, it may have seemed easy but the stages were very difficult, especially in a two-wheel drive car."

The next ERC outing of the Peugeot Rally Academy (Breen, Abbring and Lefebvre) is the Ypres Rally, Belgium, on June 19-21.