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Hyundai WRC driver Breen dies in testing accident

by Jack Cozens
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Hyundai Motorsport World Rally Championship driver Craig Breen has died after a testing accident in Croatia.

The Irish driver, 33, was preparing for the next round of the WRC – the Croatia Rally, which would have been his second outing of the 2023 season for Hyundai – when the accident occured.

Breen’s co-driver James Fulton escaped serious injury.

A statement from Hyundai read: “Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to confirm that driver Craig Breen today lost his life following an accident during the pre-event test for Croatia Rally.

“Co-driver James Fulton was unharmed in the incident that occurred just after midday local time.

“Hyundai Motorsport sends its sincerest condolences to Craig’s family, friends and his many fans.

“Hyundai Motorsport will make no further comment at this time.”

Breen made 82 starts in the WRC. When he reached the top level, he sometimes struggled to secure full-time seats but was fantastic as a stand-in and in part-time outings that made him very well respected in the service park.

Craig Breen

He scored two podiums in a full-time drive with M-Sport Ford last season, but moved back to a part-time role at Hyundai for 2023, where he had similar schedules between 2019-21.

He scored six runner-up finishes in the WRC, most recently in Sweden earlier this year on his return to Hyundai.

Earlier in his career Breen had won the prestigious WRC Academy and SWRC championships, as well as finishing runner-up in the 2015 European Rally Championship in a Peugeot.

He was much loved in his native Ireland and throughout Britain for his connection to the grassroots of rallying and for competing in various historic cars with significant rally heritage.

Those included an MG Metro 6R4 Group B car, which his father Ray drove a similar version of when Breen was younger.

The Hyundai team Breen drove for is headed up by former Renault Formula 1 team principal Cyril Abiteboul.

The Race says

Jack Benyon

Craig Breen

The rallying world will not be the same without Craig Breen.

Whether he was giving a brutally honest stage-end interview, commentating while he wasn’t competing, or generally discussing his first love of rallying in any setting – probably with a random phrase you’d never heard of, or one very specific to rallying – he may well be the last of his kind at the top-level.

I covered rallying in the UK and Ireland for some time, and while I didn’t want to be the person that took on the job of trying to paint a picture of Breen to you, the reader, because I don’t really feel I knew him well enough, I couldn’t stand by without at least attempting to do him justice. Because he was worth so much more than any piece of paper.

It’s hard to imagine many of the current crop of drivers being as connected to rallying’s past as Breen. Whether it was watching MG Metro 6R4s when he was growing up, or driving those and other brilliant cars that provoke an evocative image of a better time in rallying history, he was totally connected to the everyman.

If you bumped into Breen in a cafe and didn’t know him, it’s likely you’d still be just as charmed.

Craig Breen

But if you were a rallying fan, you were talking to a scholar of the discipline itself. With the disconnect between elite athletes and the everyday working masses perhaps bigger than it has ever been, almost everything Breen did was a bridge between the two.

He had a dream of connecting rallying to more people, inspiring people into the heady world of rallying and entertaining them with his performances.

Given how many times he finished second in the WRC, it’s criminal we’ll never see his first series win.

Speaking of his performances, his effort over The Glens on the 2016 Circuit of Ireland Rally is still one of the best onboards in motorsport history and I won’t hear otherwise. If you want a flavour of what Breen was capable of, watch this.

I’ll be forever proud that I was there that day and still mark it among one of the best performances I remember seeing at a motorsport event.

His lasting legacy is that countless fans in the UK and Ireland will care about rallying because of him. He brought rallying closer to people in what is currently, arguably, its most inaccessible hour.

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