Irish rally competitors taking part in this weekend’s Rally Croatia will lead tributes to Craig Breen. At 4:30pm local time, the Service Park in Zagreb will fall silent. Motorsport Ireland President Aidan Harper and the Irish Ambassador to Croatia, Mr Ruaidhri Dowling will join the ten Irish drivers and co-drivers competing in the fourth round of the World Rally Championship despite the tragic events of the past week. Co-driver James Fulton, driver Josh McErlean and Andrew Fanning, a member of Craig’s backroom team will travel too in a show of solidarity. Breen and co-driver Fulton were due to start the event and at their appointed time at the ceremonial ramp, the Croatian capital will once again fall silent as a tribute video to the Waterford man is played in his honour.
While the 33-year-old’s death has left the entire WRC community in a state of shock, Croatia Rally’s third appearance in the world championship presents an opportunity for his peers to honour his memory. Earlier in the week Hyundai Motorsport confirmed it will compete with a two-car entry this weekend. This decision to participate was reached after careful consideration, which included discussions with the family of Craig Breen, his co-driver James Fulton, and Hyundai Motorsport’s crews and team members. Breen’s family and James Fulton confirmed it was their wish that the team competes in Croatia in honour of Craig. The two Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid crews will be Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe and Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm and their cars will carry a special livery incorporating the colours of the Irish national flag.
Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston is the top-seeded Irish driver in the rally, and he resumes his partnership with Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta. Their Toyota Gazzo Racing team principal Jari-Matti Latvala said: “Along with the rest of the WRC family, we are truly saddened following the sudden loss of Craig Breen. As well as being a top driver, Craig was a real enthusiast for rallying, and we shared the same passion for old rally cars and for the history of our sport. As we prepare for the next rally, our thoughts are with Craig’s family, friends, and his colleagues within the service park.”
Three crews representing the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy will contest the rally. “If we were able to consult Craig, he would tell us to fly the Irish flag as high as we possibly can and that is what we are going to do in his memory this weekend,” said Academy founder and patron John Coyne. Brothers Patrick and Stephen O’Brien will make their WRC debut at the event. They will drive a Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy Hyundai i20 N Rally 2 prepared by Irish rally team PCRS Rallysport. “I had always anticipated excitement and nerves to be competing at this level amongst the greatest rally drivers in the world, but unfortunately there is also an unexpected sadness in all our hearts,” said Patrick. “It was a tough decision for myself and our team to go ahead with contesting in this event, but I believe we have made the right choice to participate in honour of our hero and friend Craig.”
Rally Academy junior crew William Creighton and Liam Regan are the current leaders of the Junior World Rally Championship, and they will continue their quest for the title this weekend. “Craig was the most passionate rally driver in the WRC and his personality was loved by so many across the world. He was always willing to offer support and advice, and for that, I will be forever grateful,” said William. “It’s hard to believe that the person that so many young drivers looked up to, will not be by our side this weekend.”
Academy teammates Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan are also competing at the event in what is also their second world start of the season. The Billy Coleman Award winner prepared for Rally Croatia by tacking the Quattro River Rally in the same region earlier this month. Galway-based co-driver Martin Brady has got a late call-up to compete in the rally alongside Kenyan Anwar Hamza and they will also compete in the Junior element of the rally.
Eamonn Boland and Mickey Joe Morrissey have also decided to press ahead with their plans to contest the rally. It will be their second WRC outing of the year in their Citroen C3 Rally2.