The 55th edition of the Renties Ypres Rally was held in a scorching heat, but the rally fans turned out en masse to see the most international event of the Belgian rally season. Craig Breen, tipped as a favourite, in his first rally in a Volkswagen Polo R5 was crowned with a resounding victory. For his former teammate Kevin Abbring and reigning Belgian champion Kris Princen ensuring there were three VWs on the podium. Freddy Loix took in fourth place as the first non-VW driver in the Skoda Fabia R5 of his co-pilot Pieter Tsjoen.
It a quick opening by Kevin Abbring, who was in an early lead in the first three stages with his new VW Polo GTI R5 but it was Craig Breen took over the lead on the fourth special stage Friday night. The Irishman quickly found his way in the VW Polo R5 from BMA and he increasingly distanced himself from the competition, thanks in part to a small mistake by Abbring, his former teammate at Peugeot from the ERC days. From there, on a warm Saturday, Craig Breen braved the heat to win the Renties Ypres Rally for the first time, after he had to give up as leader in 2015.
"I love the stages in Ypres and it is an internationally renowned race where I really wanted to put my name to," said the Irishman who defended the colours of Citroën in the World Championship for three years. "The VW Polo R5 is undoubtedly the best car I have ever driven. The car immediately gave me a lot of confidence and it sends in very precisely. Last weekend I lost a good friend in Donegal with Manus Kelly and it was an emotional weekend. We are certainly in mind with his family, " said an emotional winner, who took the start in Ypres for the fourth time.
Kevin Abbring, the winner in 2017 was navigated for the first time by Veronique Hostens, battled with Craig Breen all day, but he had to be satisfied with the second place. The gap was 45.70 seconds but lost 25 seconds at the very last test. "The car was perfect, but I made a small mistake Friday night and perhaps I had a fraction less pace than Craig. To come back, I had to take too many risks, but I definitely wanted to finish."
Kris Princen did a great job for the Belgian Championship with third place: "It was a tough and difficult race. I left some time behind when I felt vibrations on Friday morning. I thought I had a flat, but it turned out to be the rim. The car was perfect for the rest, but Craig and Kevin were too strong."
Fourth place changed position several times. Sebastien Bedoret seemed on his way to the place, but he made an error on a fast section on Saturday afternoon. Vincent Verschueren, who had to catch up after losing time early Friday evening due to a flat tire, took fourth place, but broke the gearbox in the final loop. Freddy Loix, who made a one-off comeback with the Skoda Fabia R5 by Pieter Tsjoen Racing, was fourth. The record holder of Ypres thus lived up to his reputation.
After early statements from Rhys Yates, left the stage on both Friday and Saturday. Martin McCormack, was also caught out in the opening test on Saturday morning, Davy Vanneste moved up with his orange VW Polo R5 to take a great and unexpected fifth place. Matt Edwards, winner of the British Championship section was ahead of counterpart Tom Cave and Joachim Wagemans. The top 10 was completed by Alex Laffey and Kevin Demaerschalk, who put three fastest times in the final phase, after losing a whopping 8 minutes earlier in the day at a bend.
The fastest among the Porsche drivers was Tim Van Parijs, beating Frederic Delplace and Claudie Tanghe in the Renties Porsche. In R2, James Williams was the fastest all weekend with the new Ford Fiesta R2T.
In addition to the Renties Ypres Rally, the public enjoyed a wonderful demonstration by Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul with the official Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC in the Ypres Rally Masters. Our Championship star spoiled the fans with sublime passages. He won the Ypres Rally Masters, dominating over for Paul Lietaer, who celebrated his 62nd birthday, Gunther Monnens and Bruno Thiry.