Craig Breen: the mercurial WRC talent taken too soon

Rally News

Irish WRC star Craig Breen was tragically killed in testing today, robbing the sport of a driver with an immense passion for rallying

Craig Breen Hyundai 2023

Breen was killed when testing for next week's WRC round in Croatia


The motor racing world has been paying tribute to Craig Breen, one of the stars of WRC and Ireland’s leading rallying talent, who was killed in a testing accident earlier today.

The Hyundai driver, who sits sixth in the WRC standings, was testing in Croatia ahead of next week’s rally when local media reported that the front-left of his i20 hit a wooden pole at the side of the road. Co-driver James Fulton was unharmed.

A passionate and committed rally driver, his loss will be felt throughout the WRC and motor sport world, but particularly keenly in the fervent Irish rallying scene, of which he was its chosen son – just weeks ago he competed in the West Cork Rally in his own vintage Ford Sierra Cosworth, a common occurrence for the rallying fanatic.

Craig Breen Citroen Finland 2016 2023

Full commitment from Breen during his debut WRC season in 2016


Hailing from Waterford, Breen was the son of Irish national rally champion Ray Breen and began his own off-road activities in 2007.

Just three years later he was a winner in the British Championship, claiming the Ulster Rally round as well as coming home 12th in Rally Wales GB.

The following season the Irishman would win two rounds of the WRC Junior championship before taking the title in 2011, but a year later tragedy struck.

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In an accident remarkably similar to today’s crash, a shunt at the Targa Florio in Sicily claimed the life of the Breen’s 24-year-old co-driver Gareth ‘Jaffa’ Roberts when a guardrail penetrated the car, fatally injuring him.

It would have been entirely understandable for Breen to call time on his career after such an incident, but in the memory of his friend Roberts he pushed on. The Waterford man’s Twitter bio has long read “Irish rally driver. Living to achieve our dream, miss you Jaff”.

At the end of that year, Breen honoured his friend’s memory in the best way possible by winning the S2000 World Championship in Spain.

An emotional Breen could barely speak after a season of the tragic lows and then career-defining highs: “There’s so many things… I am so, so happy, I need to thank so many people, hundreds and thousands… I’m a kid and I can’t believe I’ve done it.”

Breen regrouped for 2013 by teaming up with co-driver Paul Nagle for Peugeot in the ERC, claiming a number of podiums across the next two seasons before sealing a dream for both by winning the Circuit of Ireland in 2015.

2 Craig Breen Citroen Finland 2016 2023

Celebrating first podium at Finland ’16


In 2016 WRC came calling with the promotion to Stellantis’s Citroën effort, brilliantly achieving both a debut stage win and podium at that year’s Rally Finland.

“I can’t believe it. It’s the best day of my life,” he said after the rally, referencing Roberts. “It’s been such a road to get here. I’m missing my main man and I know he’s looking down on me.”

Continuing to compete part-time for Citroën, his next landmark event would come two years later with a second place in Sweden, before switching to Hyundai.

The Irishman’s hit rate was impressive for the South Korean marque, scoring four podiums in nine rallies, three of these being runner-up spots.

Those promising performances led to Breen realising one of his life’s ambitions: a full-time WRC seat for M-Sport in 2022.

Unfortunately the dream didn’t work out as planned – a podium on his team debut on the Monte Carlo Rally to add to Sébastien Loeb’s brilliant victory and a second in Sardinia were the only highlights of what became a miserable season, and Breen left his two-year contract early to rejoin Hyundai for 2023 on a part-time basis once more.

Redemption was immediate though – on his first and now only 2023 appearance in Sweden, he captured second place after leading significant portions of the rally. The emotion was palpable.

“It’s been an incredible weekend,” he said, struggling to hold back the tears. “It’s just been great to be back at the front again.

“It’s been such a horrible, horrible black place last year.

2 Craig Breen Hyundai 2023

Breen flew back to podium at 2023’s Rally Sweden


“Don’t let anyone ever put you down because only you know your true potential. The people close to me know it and finally we managed to get it back out again.”

If these words seem even more poignant in light of today’s tragic events, then they only serve to substantiate the achievements of a driver with serious talent.

Nine podiums in a six-year WRC career which only featured one full-time season is a considerable score. For that, and his total passion and commitment, he’ll be remembered.

Motor Sport sends its sincere condolences to Craig Breen’s family, friends and colleagues.