Reproduced from the September 13 issue of the Kerryman – Kerry Motorsport News is the official motorsport content provider to The Kerryman newspaper
When Paul Nagle and his driver Craig Breen take to the start line of Rally Monte Carlo in January it will be new beginnings in so many different ways.
The Irish crew were, last week announced as the team leaders for the M-Sport Ford World Rally team’s assault on the World Rally Championship for the next two years.
That in itself will bring its own pressures and expectations but the 2022 season also marks the arrival of the new hybrid era in the WRC.
Breen and Nagle will drive the all-new Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1 for the year ahead. It will be Breen’s first full-time seat in the championship while his Aghadoe-based co-driver must look back to his time with Kris Meeke in 2017 for his last full season at the sport’s highest level.
Next year will see all-new technical regulations, with the WRC moving to a new and exciting era of competition. Space frame chassis coupled with 100kw Hybrid Motors delivering additional 130hp bursts of power throughout the special stages and 100% sustainable fuel moves the sport into a more environmentally conscious direction, whilst still retaining the core DNA of the world’s most exciting off-road motorsport series.
“It is a blank sheet for everyone,” Nagle told The Kerryman. “New technology, it is the future, and we will know in Monte Carlo who has all the all the good bits and who has all the bad bits.”
M-Sport has reputation for building rally cars that are highly competitive straight out of the block. When the new era of World Rally Cars arrived on the world stage in 2017 the Cumbria-based squad were the best to adapt. They won the manufacturers title in year one and Sebastien Ogier scored back-to-back drivers’ championships in 2017 and 2018 driving a Ford Fiesta WRC.
This is the winning environment that Breen and Nagle find themselves in for the year ahead but as the team’s Number One crew, they will be expected to deliver too.
“This will bring its own pressures and expectations, added Nagle. “The team will want podiums and rally wins, Number One drivers are expected to do that.”
Despite that kind of pressure the Irish crew are “hungry for victories”
“Both Craig and I are hungry for victories and to fight for the World Rally Championship title, we will be giving it our very best,” added Paul who will reach 100 WRC starts next season.
His career began, appropriately enough, in a Ford Focus World Rally Car built by M-Sport. Nagle and his Aghadoe neighbour Donie O’Sullivan contested Rally Spain in 2004, an event that set Nagle on the road to stardom at the sport’s highest level.
Nagle spent two partial seasons in the WRC with Dubliner Gareth MacHale, again in three different M-Sport built Ford Focus World Rally Cars and a few one-off outings with Scotsman Barry Clark (also in an M-Sport built Focus) before forging an alliance with Tyrone’s Kris Meeke.
“I’m really excited to be involved with the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team as we enter the new Hybrid era of the World Rally Championship. I have worked with many teams in my time in the WRC but always wanted to join the Ford family,” he added.
These teams include the Citroen years with Meeke where the pair recorded five WRC victories, an International Rally Challenge championship win with Peugeot and a short-lived stint with the BMW-MINI Prodrive World Rally team.
In between gigs, Nagle contested two WRC events with Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen in a Volkswagen Polo WRC in 2013 where their chief engineer was Firies native Richard Browne.
Nagle’s first assignment with Breen was during the 2012 season when he helped the Waterford man secure the SWRC title, now known as WRC 2.
Nagle returned to the Meeke camp in 2014, recording their first win for Citroen on the following year’s Rally Argentina. The crew took four further wins for the French squad before a falling out with company management in 2018 left them without a drive.
Breen and Nagle rekindled their partnership for 2019, winning the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship before being employed by Hyundai for three part-time seasons.
That led to several podium finishes including third place overall on the recent Rally Finland and a sensational second place on the Ypres Rally Belgium in August.
It was on the back of these kinds of results that they went looking for a full-time seat for next season and that is how the Ford door opened.
“To think that there are only nine or ten full-time seats in the world and we have one of them,” said Nagle.
They sampled the Puma Hybrid Rally1 car on gravel in Cumbria a few weeks ago, Breen was more than impressed and excited by the team’s latest creation and is now fully focussed on delivering the results and success that both he and the squad know is possible.
Breen, who is a self-confessed rally history buff knows the significance of driving for Ford.
“To add my name to the list of drivers that have driven for Ford is a bit surreal, drivers like Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. To have my name etched in the history books besides these greats is a huge privilege,” said Breen. “Being a very proud Irish man, to drive for Ford is something even more special to me as Henry Ford’s father was born in Ireland before emigrating to America. The love and passion for the brand in Ireland is still huge to this day.”
There is another nice Kerry connection with the Breen family and Tralee. Craig’s grandfather Jimmy Breen was born in the Strand Road area before moving to Waterford to open a shoe shop.
“I am so happy and proud to be joining the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team with Paul by my side. It has been a long road for us in the World Rally Championship with many twists and turns but we have now been given a golden ticket to drive for the most prestigious marque in motorsport and fight for the World Rally Championship,” he said.
Their season gets underway in January with Rally Monte Carlo, the full calendar of events will not be released until after a World Council meeting on October 18.
Before the opening event, the World Rally Championship’s new cars will be unveiled to the public at the Autosport International show in Birmingham in early January.
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