Remembering: Craig Breen [Part II]


 

As a continuation from the Part I, we remember Craig Breen's achievements in World Rally Championship in this tribute!


2016


In 2016, Citroen Abu Dhabi Total WRT offered to Breen a part-time campaign in WRC. He and Martin started their WRC programme with Rally Sweden where they finished in eighth place overall with the DS3 WRC. After this event, they won the second round of European Rally Championship with the Citroen DS3 R5, which was Circuit of Ireland. They improved their WRC performance at Rally Poland by finishing in seventh place overall, but Breen’s maiden podium in World Rally Championship came in Finland which was held just 25 days after the end of Rally Poland. He dedicated his top three finish in WRC to Gareth Roberts and could not believe that he achieved a podium on his third outing as a factory driver at the top tier. After their success at the Grand Prix of WRC, they participated in Rally Isle of Man with the DS3 R5, but they had to retire due to a problem with the oil pressure. Breen continued his impressive performance at the World Rally Championship as he completed the top five in Corsica, but he finished five places lower in Spain. His WRC season ended with a retirement in Wales as he rolled his DS3 WRC in SS5. Despite his misfortune at Rally GB, Breen ended his 2016 season in style as he was the winner of Rallye du Condroz-Huy with the DS3 R5.




2017

Citroen Racing extended Breen’s programme by five rallies and the Irishman competed in eleven from 13 round of that year’s World Rally Championship. He started his campaign with the season opener in Monte Carlo where he finished fifth overall, but he drove the Citroen DS3 WRC before his having switched to C3 WRC for the rest of 2017. Another top five finish came at Rally Sweden and was the top Citroen driver on these two events. He skipped Rally Mexico as the French team decided to take part there with Stephane Lefebvre and Kris Meeke. His third outing of the season was Tour de Corse where he got another fifth place. Rally Argentina was not ideal for him as he had a retirement due to a mechanical issue with his C3. Afterwards, he participated in Portugal and completed the top five on the overall classification while he restarted under the SuperRally regulations in Sardinia as the gearbox of his was had an oil leak. As he received time penalties for his restart, he finished 25th place overall. He did a break from his WRC programme by competing at Raven's Rock Rally with Patrick Croke as his co-driver and a Ford Escort MK2 where they finished at the lowest place of the podium. Rally Poland was the following event after this Irish event and finished just one place behind the top ten. However, he bounced back in Finland by taking another top five finish while he secured a second consecutive fifth place in Germany. Rali de Mortágua was the second outing for him out of World Rally Championship and was victorious on this Portuguese event with Andy Hayes and the Citroen DS3 R5. The penultimate event of his WRC programme was Wales Rally GB where he finished 15th place overall as he restarted under the regulations of SuperRally. His WRC season did not end well as he had a DNF in Australia after his having rolled his C3 in Stage 18. He concluded his season with his appearance at Monster Energy Monza Rally Show with Tamara Molinaro as his navigator and the Citroen DS3 WRC, but he retired from this iconic event. He was awarded with the 2017 Donegal International Rally winner.



2018

Citroen Racing offered to Breen another partial programme in World Rally Championship, but this time he skipped only two of the 13 rallies as Rally Mexico and Tour de Corse were not included to his campaign. He started his season with Rallye Monte Carlo, but he finished four places lower than in 2017 (9th overall). He got behind the wheel of a Ford Escort MK2 at Carrick-on-Suir Wm.Loughman Forestry Rally as a course car. After the end of this Irish event, he returned back to WRC action in Sweden where he achieved his personal best result in World Rally Championship as he finished second overall. After his success on this winter rally, he had to retire from Rally Argentina due to an accident damage with his C3. Rally de Portugal and Rally Italia Sardegna were the next two following events on his WRC programme where he finished seventh and sixth overall respectively. Citroen Racing chose Breen over his teammates, Mads Ostberg and Kris Meeke, to take part in WRC promotional event, which was held in Estonia, where he finished at the lowest place of the podium. Their next outings with the C3 at the top level was Finland and Germany, but he only finished in eighth and in seventh place respectively. At Rally Turkey, he had a DNF as there was smoking coming from the engine and eventually his C3 caught on fire. Despite his lack of results on the last three WRC events, he responded back by completing the top four in Wales. He and Scott Martin took a break from World Rally Championship as they were present at Rallylegend in San Marino where they were the winners with the Citroen C4 WRC. Rally Spain and Rally Australia were the concluding rallies for his WRC campaign, but he finished ninth and seventh respectively. He chose to compete with Tamara Molinaro and a Citroen DS3 R5 at Ronde Città dei Mille where he took his second victory of the season.



2019

In 2019, Breen lost his seat at Citroen from Sebastien Ogier and Esapekka Lappi, thus he stayed out of World Rally Championship until the time that Hyundai Motorsport offered him a two-event programme with the i20 Coupe WRC. Scott Martin parted ways with Breen in that season with the last one bringing Paul Nagle back to the right seat of his car. Their season started with Rentokil Killarney Historic Stages Rally and drove a MG Metro 6R4 as a course car. Their next two events were part of the Ireland Tarmac championship where they won both of them (Galway International Rally, Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally) with a Ford Fiesta R5. They switched to a Skoda Fabia R5 for Rally Il Ciocco e Valle del Serchio where they finished in fourth place. They took their third win of the season at Rallye Sanremo with the Fabia where they were victorious in five classes (Alpine Rally Trophy, Italy, Italy - Coppa ACI, class R5, class RC2). Breen and Nagle returned back to UAC Easter Stages, an Ireland Tarmac event, and won for a third time in a row on that championship with the Ford Fiesta R5. Cartell.ie International Rally of the Lakes was the following event on their programme for Ireland Tarmac and once again they were victorious. Afterwards, the Irish crew did an outing with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC at Joule Donegal International Rally where they finished in second place overall despite the fact that this event stopped. After the rallies in Ireland, it was Belgium’s turn as he took part in Renties Ypres Rally with the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 claiming another win. After the successful season he had so far, Hyundai Motorsport approached him and gave him the chance to compete in two WRC rounds as Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo did not want to compete in Wales and Finland. As a pre-event test for Rally Finland, Breen and Nagle participated on the WRC promotional rally of Estonia with the i20 Coupe WRC where they completed the top five. After the end of Shell Helix Rally Estonia, it was time for him to return back to WRC action after nine-month absence from the sport, but he finished only seventh overall in Finland. After his first WRC outing of the season, he and Nagle took part in Today's Ulster Rally, an Ireland Tarmac round, with the Hyundai i20 R5 where they were victorious in five classes (Celtic Rally Trophy, Ireland Tarmac, class A1, class ITR 1, class International). After the end of this event, Breen was crowned as the 2019 Ireland Tarmac Champion. He made his appearance at RallyDay with two different cars, the MG Metro 6R4 and the Subaru Impreza 555. After this show event, he participated at Wales Rally GB at the top level with Hyundai, but he finished in eighth place overall. He took part in Rallylegend Star with a Subaru Impreza 555 for a second year in a row and had Tamara Molinaro as his navigator. Afterwards, he returned back to his country for a historic rally, the Rentokil Initial Killarney Historic Stages Rally, where he and Nagle finished second overall with the Ford Escort MK2. His season ended with Martijn Wydaeghe alongside him as both of them participated in two different categories at Monza Rally Show where he finished fourth and fifth overall with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and the Hyundai i20 R5 respectively.



2020

Craig Breen was provided with a two-rally programme by Hyundai Motorsport, because the 2020 WRC season was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His first outing of the year was Rally Sweden with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and Paul Nagle where he finished in seventh place overall. Meanwhile, he announced that he would compete with Team MRF Tyres in European Rally Champinship and would drive the Hyundai i20 R5. He took part in SM Itäralli with John Rowan and the i20 R5 where he completed the top three, but he won the class LK6. His ERC campaign began with Rally di Roma Capitale, but he and Nagle remained just one place behind the podium positions after the end of this rally. Afterwards, the crew competed in Rally di Alba, an Italy WRC event, and took their first victory of the season. Rally Liepāja was the following outing for them in ERC and in Baltic Rally Trophy championship, but once again they finished fourth in ERC. He stepped in i20 Coupe WRC for Rally Estonia, which was the first visit of WRC in this country, and managed to claim a second-place podium despite the fact that he did not spend so much time inside this WRC machinery. He switched to i20 R5 for Rally Fafe Montelongo, but he finished 16th on ERC classification. His second win of the season came at Aarova Rally Oudenaarde where Hyundai Motorsport N offered him a drive with the i20 Coupe WRC. His two final outings were ERC rounds where he had a DNF due to an engine issue and finished 11th at Rally Hungary and Rally Islas Canarias respectively.



2021

In 2021, Hyundai offered to Breen a five-rally programme with the i20 Coupe WRC, but at the same time he continued his partnership with Team MRF Tyres in ERC. His first outing of the season was Arctic Rally Finland at the top level of WRC where he and Nagle finished just one place far from the podium positions. Afterwards, he competed in two Italian rounds with the i20 R5 where he had one retirement due to a crash and a victory at Rally Il Ciocco e Valle del Serchio and Rallye Sanremo respectively. He returned back to WRC action for Rally Croatia, but he could nothing more than taking an eighth place. Targa Florio was the next event on his programme and it was his first participation there since Jaffa’s death. He competed with Louis Louka, Gregoire Munster’s co-driver, in Sicily and his aim was to win this event in memory of his friend, but eventually he finished only second. He began his ERC campaign with ORLEN Rajd Polski - Rally Poland, but he had a restart under the SR regulations, therefore he and Nagle were 50th on the overall classification. Rally Liepāja was his second consecutive appearance in ERC and managed to finish 17,3 seconds behind the winner Nikolay Gryazin. Rally Estonia was the following outing for him where he claimed his first podium of the season in WRC as he finished second. His next visit was the Rally di Roma Capitale in ERC, but he finished 9th and fourth on the ERC and the Italy classification respectively. A second-place WRC finish in a row came for him in Belgium as his experience from the stages of Ypres Rally gave him an advantage over his rivals. After the end of Ypres Rally, he competed at Rally Finland in World Rally Championship and gave to Hyundai valuable points by taking the third place. He was present at the Rallylegend – Star in San Marino having Tamara Molinaro as his navigator and driving a Ford Escort WRC there. The penultimate event of his 2021 programme was Wexford Volkswagen Stages Rally where he competed with Mikie Galvin and a Subaru Legacy 4WD Turbo and won the class 19, but he finished sixth on the overall classification. Paul Nagle stepped in for Killarney Historic Stages Rally and ended their season in a positive way as they were victorious with the BMW M3 E30. 



2022

Craig Breen decided to leave Hyundai Motorsport at the end of 2021 and joined M-Sport Ford as the Malcolm Wilson’s team offered to him a full-time contract which was his maiden one in World Rally Championship. He adapted to his new car and the hybrid immediately as he finished in the third place overall behind the two legends of the sport in Monte Carlo, Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier. 

The podium at Rallye Monte Carlo


At Rally Sweden, he finished 36th overall as he had to restart under the regulations of Super Rally following an accident he had with his Puma. He switched to Ford Fiesta Rally2 for Rallye Sanremo, but he retired with an engine problem. He participated in this event with John Rowan as his co-driver. His first tarmac outing with the Puma came in Croatia where he finished one place far from the top three. At Rallye de Portugal, he finished just in eighth place overall as he suffered from two punctures, brake issues and had a small off during that weekend. However, he put M-Sport Ford back to the podium as he finished behind the winner Ott Tanak and spoiled the 1-2 for Hyundai Motorsport. The three next WRC events were not perfect for him as he had three restarts under the regulations of Super Rally (Safari Rally, Rally Estonia, Rally Finland, but his best finish was the sixth place in Kenya among these rallies. He claimed his first victory of the season at Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally where he competed with John Boden as his navigator and a Ford Focus RS WRC ’06. After the end of this Irish rally, he returned back to his WRC duties in Belgium, but he had another restart under the regulations of Super Rally as he rolled his Puma. Despite his lack of results, he bounced back in Greece by completing the top five on the classification. His bad luck continued in New Zealand as he went off the road and had to restart the next day under the SR regulations. Paul Nagle announced that his final rally with Breen would be Rally Spain, as the Irish co-driver wanted to retire from WRC, and together they finished ninth there. James Fulton stepped in to replace Nagle for the season finale in Japan, but one again he finished outside the top ten as he had an accident and had to restart under the regulations. His final event of the season was CFF Group Boggeragh Rallysprint with Peter Brennan and Ford Focus RS WRC ’06 where he was victorious. 



2023

In 2023, Craig Breen returned back to Hyundai Motorsport with a partial programme and it was supposed to share the third i20N with Dani Sordo. Moreover, he announced that he would participate at Portuguese Championship with Hyundai Portugal and an i20N Rally2. He continued his partnership with Fulton for these two series. Before his having started his WRC season, he did an outing with Paul Nagle and a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth at Killarney Historic Rally (2022) where he had to retire due to a driveshaft issue. Rally Sweden was the next event for him and impressed everyone with his performance as he was fighting with Ott Tanak and Esapekka Lappi for the victory. Unfortunately, he suffered from a puncture in Stage 13, thus he lost his chance to get his maiden WRC victory, but he finished in second place overall. He called his Hyundai return as a “second chance” while a journalist called him “The Mayor of Brattby” as he set a benchmark in that stage. The first rally of the Portuguese Championship was Rally Serras de Fafe, Felgueiras, Boticas, Vieira do Minho e Cabeceiras de Basto where he was victorious on his class and finished sixth in ERC. Nagle stepped in for Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Historic Rally, but they finished 24th overall with the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth as they had to restart under the SuperRally regulations. Rallye Casinos do Algarve was the second outing for him at Portuguese Championship, but this time he had a DNF after an accident. Croatia Rally would be his second appearance of the season in World Rally Championship, but he was killed during the pre-event test in Lobor on April 13. The accident happened when he went off the road resulting in hitting a wooden pole with the front left end of his car and eventually dying on the spot while his co-driver, James Fulton, was unhurt. It was raining in that day and Hyundai confirmed that there was no issue with the car and Breen was driving at low speeds. In addition to that, FIA said that they would investigate the cause of his accident, but so far there is no detail about it. All the crews, the team members and the whole rallying community were very sad with his death and the i20N Rally1 carried a special livery for Croatia Rally whereas M-Sport Ford and Toyota brought some logos to their cars in memory of Breen in that rally.



On 1st December 2023, FIA, Hyundai Motorsport, Motorsport Ireland, Hyundai Portugal, Hyundai Spain and Sports & You announced the establishment of Craig Breen Foundation with the view of honoring him and helping young drivers as Craig Breen was one of the drivers who was close to the youngsters. Moreover, the organizers of Rally Sweden renamed the stage "Brattby" for 2024 and now is called "#42 Brattby" while FIA withdrew the #42 for the whole season of 2023.

Craig Breen's last podium in WRC


PS: I had never the chance to meet nor interview Craig, but I miss him and his attitude so much. He was a very passionate person and was living his dream until that unlucky moment, but we will always remember his Irish temperament and the smile he had after the end of every stage. My thoughts are with Craig’s family and friends! 

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