Following the tragic death of Craig Breen, members of the rallying community have paid tribute to the Irishman, praising his spirit and character.
Drivers from the FIA World Rally Championship have led an outpouring of heartfelt tributes to Factory Hyundai driver Craig Breen who was killed in a pre-event testing accident in Croatia on Thursday morning.
In preparation for the Croatia Rally, which will start on Thursday night, Breen and teammate James Fulton were in the country with Hyundai Motorsport for some experience in their i20 N Rally1 car.
The two are believed to have left the road at a corner between Stari Golubovac and Lobora, where they are said to have crashed into a “wooden pole,” according to local media.
Breen’s death was confirmed by Hyundai Motorsport, who also added that Fulton was “unharmed in the incident,” which took place just after noon local time.
Breen was scheduled for action in Croatia for the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship with Fulton as part of his part-time drive arrangement with the Alzenau-based team for 2023.
Their most recent participation was in February, when the team’s Rally1-spec car finished in second place, bringing Breen’s total number of podium finishes in the sport’s premier division since 2016 to nine.
On that occasion, Ott Tanak, the former World Champion who took his place at M-Sport Ford at the conclusion of the previous season, beat him to his first-ever victory. Tanak expressed “no words, everything is just broken” in response to the devastating news.
“I can’t believe I’m writing this now… Life can be so fragile and unfair.
“I can’t believe we have lost you mate! We have just been texting and another moment you are not answering anymore.
“I will miss you buddy so bad. So, so bad.”
Eight-time world rally champion Sebastien Ogier was shocked to learn of Breen’s passing. He said that he was “lost for words” and highlighted the 33-year-old’s devotion for a sport that he had only begun participating in 16 years earlier, when he took on the Tipperary Stonethrowers Stages Rally in a Honda Civic hatchback.
“Everyone loved Craig for his great Irish character and his enthusiasm for our sport,” Ogier said. “My thoughts are with his family and friends in this very sad time.”
Sebastien Loeb, a fellow countryman who worked with Breen at M-Sport the previous year and shared a service park with him, too expressed his sorrow after hearing the news.
“Life and this sport can be cruel sometimes… It is the case today for your loved ones, and for the family of WRC and motorsport,” Loeb said.
Thierry Neuville and Breen were teammates at Hyundai and had been battling for championships from 2019 to 2021 and again this year. Due to the fact that both were scheduled to race at the Tarmac counter for the South Korean manufacturer.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I post this message,” Neuville said. “Today I’ve lost a team-mate but more than anything, I have lost a friend.”
“Craig, your passion for rallying was immeasurable… Your joy behind the steering wheel was beyond any of ours, your emotional stage-end comments in a league of its own.
“You were the first to bring the English tea to Hyundai Motorsport, you made our debriefs last three hours or more, we had endless conversations about our private rally cars.
“All of this will stay deep in my memories. I will miss you! Rest easy, my friend.”
Breen continued to be a very well-liked and well-supported figure outside of the World Rally Championship and closer to home.
He turned to the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship in 2019 to guarantee regular seat time and found victory at the Ulster Rally among other rallies when it seemed like his career as a works driver had come to an end.
Winning the Billy Coleman Award, an annual honor that attracts funding and mentoring from Motorsport Ireland, was what helped launch Breen to fame.
He not only benefited from the sport but also served as a proud representative of his native nation on a global scale. In February, he stated that he would donate 10,000 euros to the Irish Forest Championship’s Junior 1000 division.