Craig Breen: 1990-2023

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Photo Credit: Cian Don

It’s been a tough few days for the motorsport world, and the rallying community in particular, as last week on Thursday 13th April 2023 we lost an irreplaceable part of that community when Craig Breen tragically lost his life while testing for the upcoming Croatia Rally, a round of the World Rally Championship.

When I was asked to write something in tribute, I had some trepidation as I did not know the man, not personally. I did have the pleasure of meeting him a number of times over the years but only briefly and I cannot say for certain that we ever exchanged over 200 words all told. Why then do so many of us feel like a friend was lost last week?

From the time he burst onto the scene over a decade ago it was clear he was a driver of immense talent and determination but the same can be said of so many of the drivers we have witnessed in rallying and across other disciplines. However, something was different when it came to Breen and from that moment of utter jubilation and joy, leaping and shouting in celebration at the end of a Welsh rally stage in 2011 when he and co-driver Gareth “Jaffa” Roberts became the 2011 WRC Academy champions, it was as if a journey began that we were all invited along for.

It was a difficult journey, one that brought great highs and cruel, cruel lows, such as when Jaffa died in an accident in Sicily in 2012 during the Targa Florio rally. But throughout it all, we were all there too. Nothing was hidden from us. No smile. No tears. Nothing in between. We couldn’t help but be part of it. That grinning face at the end of a stage was one you couldn’t help but support.

I have been a rally fan for about as long as I can remember but I would be lying if rallying didn’t get a little more special for me when Breen arrived on the scene.

Photo Credit: Cian Don

That journey took Breen all over the world, when he achieved his dream of competing in the FIA World Rally Championship, proudly displaying the tricolour and acting as an unofficial brand ambassador for Barry’s Tea. Wherever he went, we went with him, either watching at home or indeed making the trip to support from the stage side. When he claimed his first podium (of 9 total) in the WRC he cried, and we cried too. We were witnessing a man doing what he loved, at the absolute pinnacle of his sport and the emotion he displayed brought us right there with him.

Despite his globetrotting motorsport lifestyle, he never forgot his home, often speaking fondly of rallying here in Ireland and more recently competing quite often in events here, most notably in historic vehicles close to his heart such as his Metro 6R4 and just a few weeks ago in the car of his hero – Frank Meagher – a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. Unfortunately that would prove to be the last occasion I would get to witness my own hero doing what he loved so dear, on that occasion the thunderclap from the glorious side exit exhaust lifted our spirits, as when he passed, our own car had just suffered a gearbox failure putting us out of the rally. His knowledge and passion for the history of rallying was just one of many reasons Craig resonated with us fans.

Photo Credit: Cian Don

Today I attended Craig Breen’s final part of that journey, surrounded by countless numbers of people he affected in the same way he did me and in the presence of his closest family, friends and colleagues. The journey he took us on is over, but the memories of it will live on forever.

Yes, I didn’t know Craig Breen but in a way we all did – because he wasn’t just a driver to us, he was one of us. Craig Breen is someone who lived for rallying and never even considered hiding it nor his gratitude for being given the opportunity to live out his dreams. And that was what made him so special.

Goodbye Craig. We’ll miss you.

Photo Credit: Cian Don