Craig Breen begins his M-Sport Ford journey at Rally Monte Carlo this weekend

In the World Rally Championship (WRC) it is widely accepted that in order for a driver to be really successful, and realise their full potential across a season, a talented engineer is a prerequisite.

Irishman Craig Breen is a well-known quantity and someone who isn’t exactly lacking in speed or ability; six top-three finishes with two different manufacturers since 2016 is proof, were it needed.

But many believe that had he not been hampered by an underdeveloped car during his Citroen days, and had team orders not been imposed by former Hyundai Motorsport boss Andrea Adamo, he would already have turned those second- and third-place performances into a handful of wins.

He should have no such issues at M-Sport. Last October, he inked a two-year deal with them and was quickly put to work to help the squad with its test and development programme of the Puma – a process that has also led to nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb getting in on the act.

The last of these 9 allocated tests for the petrol-electric Rally1 car happened before Christmas in the coldest depths of Finland – perfect conditions for stressing both the battery pack and e-motor, two crucial new components designed to increase excitement and make the WRC more relevant.

Since Finland, Breen has said he feels right at home at M-Sport – a team he has flirted with before during his time in the British Championship, Junior and Super 2000 World Rally Championships.

Helping Breen to settle in at the British outfit and make the Puma familiarisation process easier is Ballyclare’s Jamie McMillan. An engineering graduate from Queen’s University in Belfast, he has quickly risen through the ranks at M-Sport since he arrived as a junior engineer in August 2017.

For 2022, McMillan has been appointed Breen’s lead engineer – the person who acts as medium between the driver and those mechanics who will work on the car on all 13 rounds of the WRC.

“I found out that I would be working with Craig and Paul [Nagle, co-driver] prior to Rally Monza, the last round of 2021,” said McMillan who, while having to find the time to develop the software that enables the Puma Rally1 car’s arsenal of electronic components to communicate, attended nine WRC rounds last year, five pre-event tests, and six development days in England and Europe.

Jamie McMillan (L) is Craig Breen’s lead engineer in this season’s WRC

“We know what Craig’s performances have been like in the past on different surfaces, so teaming up with him and the challenges that come with it, I’m really keen to throw myself at it and make the most of the opportunity. If we continue to work hard then we can get good results, definitely.

“It’s good to get the chance to work with someone at this level who is as passionate and success driven as I am. The engineer and driver relationship is always pivotal, and it has been good so far.”

The flag dropped on the 2022 WRC campaign in Monte Carlo last night and Breen has made it clear that he intends to challenge for silverware right from the off – a view shared by McMillan.

However, McMillan is quick to stress that the introduction of hybridised cars, which have never been raced against the clock, and the variables at ‘the Monte’ mean Blue Oval fans should not get too disheartened if things go awry. “The alarm bells shouldn’t be sounding,” he insists.

“We know we have a driver capable of winning rallies and hopefully fighting for the championship, and everyone at M-Sport is fully behind that – that can only keep pushing us in the right direction, but we probably won’t know how things are shaping up until round three in Croatia to be honest.

“But in terms of a new car coming out and where you want to place yourself, for me, you go into the first event to win it and if you do that, naturally you want to win the second round,” he added.

“Sometimes you lead from the first result but like I said, I think it’s going to be hard to judge where we are going to be given the luck needed at Monte and the fact Sweden is the only snow event.

“And although we haven’t actually sat down together to discuss goals, I am sure myself and Craig are on the same page. We want to be at the sharp end, fighting for podiums and victories and once we do that we can then look and see if we can turn that into a championship challenge.”

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