From elation to despair for Team MRF Tyres in Portugal


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)
“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) DNF
“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.”