Craig Breen, the champion with the magical smile

breen martin, estonia 2018

Craig Breen was born in Waterford on February 2, 1990, and passed away in Lobor on April 13, 2023. He was an Irish rally driver, a two-time winner of the Rallye Sanremo. He clinched his first victory in Liguria with Meteco Corse.

Craig Breen’s (credit photo Bacigalupi) journey through the world of rallying was a tapestry woven with triumphs, challenges, and the indelible mark left by those he met along the way. Let’s delve into his story, year by year, each moment shaping the legacy of a true rallying icon.

1999 – 2006: the early years

Craig Breen’s passion for speed ignited in the humble confines of karting circuits across Ireland. Like many aspiring racers, he cut his teeth in the adrenaline-fueled world of kart racing, honing his skills and dreaming of greater challenges ahead.

2007 – 2008: transition to rallying

In 2007, Breen made the leap from karting to rallying under the tutelage of his father, Ray Breen, a revered figure in Irish rallying circles. The transition proved seamless as Craig quickly found his rhythm on the gravel and asphalt stages that define the sport.

2009: Ford Fiesta Sporting Trophy Champion

A breakthrough year for Breen as he clinched the Ford Fiesta Sporting Trophy championship, signaling his arrival as a force to be reckoned with in the rally scene. Behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta V ST, he showcased his raw talent and determination, laying the groundwork for future success.

2011: WRC Academy Champion

The pinnacle of Breen’s early career came in 2011 when he conquered the WRC Academy, a proving ground for young talents aspiring to reach the pinnacle of rallying. Victories at Rally Germany and Rally GB catapulted him into the spotlight, earning him widespread acclaim and recognition.

2012: Super 2000 World Champion amid tragedy

A year of triumph and tragedy. Breen’s dominance in the Super 2000 category was overshadowed by the tragic loss of his co-driver, Gareth Roberts, in a heart-wrenching accident during the Rally Targa Florio. Despite the grief, Breen showcased unwavering resilience, clinching victories at prestigious events like Rally Monte Carlo and Rally Wales.

craig breen, foto bacigalupi
Craig Breen, foto Bacigalupi

2013 – 2014: transition and triumph with Peugeot

Stepping into a new chapter, Breen joined forces with Peugeot, embarking on a successful campaign in the European Rally Championship. Podium finishes and memorable victories, including the Acropolis Rally in Greece, solidified his reputation as a top-tier driver on the international stage.

2015: Circuit of Ireland victory

A poignant moment for Breen as he fulfilled a lifelong dream by triumphing at the Circuit of Ireland Rally. The win held special significance, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of his childhood idol Frank Meagher’s victory. It was a testament to Breen’s perseverance and unyielding determination.

2016 – 2018: Citroën years

Breen’s ascent continued with a stint as an official Citroën driver in the World Rally Championship. Notable achievements included his first WRC stage win at Rally Finland and a podium finish in Rally Sweden, showcasing his adaptability and tenacity at the highest level of competition.

2019 – 2021: Hyundai era

Joining Hyundai as an official driver marked a new chapter in Breen’s career, highlighted by victories at the Rally di Sanremo in 2019 and 2021. Despite a part-time schedule, he consistently delivered impressive performances, reaffirming his status as one of the sport’s elite talents.

2022: M-Sport Ford WRT

A pivotal year as Breen joined M-Sport Ford WRT as their lead driver, embarking on a full-season campaign in the WRC. Despite facing challenges, including the loss of his longtime co-driver Paul Nagle, Breen showcased his resilience with podium finishes at Rally Monte Carlo and Rally Sardinia.

2023: Return to Hyundai and tragic end

Breen’s return to Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT was marked by a career-best performance at Rally Sweden, where he secured a commendable second place. However, tragedy struck in April 2023 during a test session in preparation for the Rally di Croazia, as Breen’s life was cut short in a devastating accident.

Each year, each victory, and each setback added a layer to the rich tapestry of Craig Breen’s legacy. Though his time on this earth was tragically brief, his passion for rallying and the indelible mark he left on the sport will forever be remembered.