Craig Breen's bid to win the inaugural FIA WRC Academy Cup has received a huge boost on the opening day of Rallye de France Alsace.

The Irishman, one of six Pirelli Star Drivers competing in the training category, reached Friday’s overnight halt in Strasbourg leading by 24.6s. With title leader Egon Kaur crashing out on stage three, Breen has been handed a tremendous opportunity to close the gap to his rival with one round remaining.

“It’s a shame what happened to Egon, we were in exactly the same position in Sardinia earlier this season,” said Breen, who has claimed six bonus points for his sequence of stage wins. “We retired early on the Friday so we have to keep in mind that everything can happen. We are keeping a quite steady pace and not pushing overly hard.”

Spaniard Yeray Lemes is second overall with Alastair Fisher third after he went fastest of all on stage six. The Northern Irishman, who spent a day last week driving VIP guests around a test stage in the United Kingdom in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, said: “We didn’t take any chances at all, there’s too much gravel on the road and it’s really easy to make a mistake. I’m here to get a finish.”

Tarmac specialist Jose Suarez dropped time with a couple of overshoots on stage three and is fourth overnight with Brendan Reeves a strong fifth, despite the Australian’s lack of asphalt experience.

Czech Jan Cerny said he struggled to find “confidence and a good rhythm” in the morning. He’s sixth as a result, one place ahead of German Sepp Weigand, who is making his second appearance in the WRC Academy.

Germany’s Christian Riedemann’s hopes of a strong result ended when he went off the road on stage four and got stuck in a ditch for more than two minutes. He is in eighth position with Russian Sergey Karyakin ninth despite crashing into a tree on the third stage, while Molly Taylor completes the top 10.

“We hit a tree in a very tricky corner, there was some gravel on the road which made the surface very slippery,” said Karyakin. “I tried to save the car by pushing the throttle but I wasn’t able to control it so I pushed the handbrake, spun and we ended up hitting the tree with the right side of the car. It was quite a hard impact, we smashed the rear windscreen, the front and rear windows on the co-driver's side and we punctured a wheel.”

South African Ashley Haigh-Smith crashed out on stage two on his WRC Academy debut.
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