I honestly can't believe I'm writing this post, nor do I even know what to say. It's been 24hrs since I got the news that Craig Breen had been tragically killed while testing in Croatia and it still hasn't sunk in. Nor will it for quite some time.
Craig never knew who I am, and I never knew him as a person, but to me, Craig was the closest thing to an idol I'll ever have. He had the most infectious nature towards motorsport and rallying, the sport he loved with all his heart. He was one of the lads, one of us, a bobble hatter in the ditches before a driver on the stage. And that's exactly why I loved the guy.
Ask me who my heroes are? All of them are Craig Breen.
In 2013, I was down in Mondello Park with my father, watching a baby blue MK2 Escort slide, lock to lock, on a wet, slimey track. Craig, just 23 years old, was putting on a show and taking lucky folk for passenger spins. At the time, his name was lost on me, and it would be five years later in the Welsh forests when a Citroen C3 WRC went past us in wild fashion, the Irish flag on the back window and '42' on the door, that I properly understood who Craig Breen was.
After that I was fully subscribed to the CB42 fan-club. My friends, who don't get rallying at all, slag me endlessly about the love I have for the guy, likely a result of me boring them to tears with countless stories. I booked trips to the WRC not to support the series or the teams, but to support Craig and whoever was lucky enough to sit in the seat next to him.
In 2019 I watched him blow every driver off the map on his way to winning the Irish Tarmac Championship at the Ulster Rally. A few weeks later, my heart sank when news filtered through that he'd made a ball of his i20 WRC on the Saturday morning pass of Myherin in Wales. And in 2021 I stood like a grinning eejit in a Finnish forest as he passed, foot welded to the bulkhead, on his way to the overnight lead into Sunday.
Later that evening I headed up to service in Jyväskylä to meet them coming in and as soon as Craig & Paul jumped out of the car and they were over to us fans, slagging us off for hanging the Irish flag upside down on the fence. Craig knew what it meant to us to have an Irishman winning on the world stage, and he wore that with pride.
The buzz he created around the WRC was immense. Here was a young, rally mad underdog punching far above his weight amongst the big stars and more often than not, beating them with ease. When Craig was driving, the Irish landed on in full form, creating an atmosphere that few other drivers really had.
And yet, here we are, just 2 months on from his career best result in Sweden and 1 week out of his next event in Croatia, the excitement has gone. The bubble has burst.
The Irish rallying community and the WRC have lost their greatest ambassador. Many of us, myself included, have lost a hero, someone we looked up to and were delighted to see doing well. Thinking on this now, I'm just so so glad I got to see some of that success in person.
I know he's up there with Jaffa, giving it full beans alongside Colin, Richard, Ken and the rest we've lost over the years.
Rallying for me, and rallying as a whole, will just never be the same again.
Keep the choke out, Craig ❤️