Ford has always been special for me – and that’s not just me saying it. I can tell you the precise day when the Blue Oval became the brand for me in rallying.
It was April 21, 1992. I was two years – and two months – old. It would be fair to say I wouldn’t have remembered Frank Meagher winning the Circuit of Ireland. But I learned plenty of it since then.
Frank was my hero. Throughout his career he drove Fords and that’s why, when I started out on this journey all those years ago, I started in a Ford made by M-Sport.
The fascination with M-Sport came from dad having a Focus [RS WRC] from there as well.
You can probably see why there’s a bit of a feeling that I’ve come full circle to be here with the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team now. Walking back into Dovenby Hall for the first time, there was a real feeling of coming home.
I know I wouldn’t be the first driver to talk about that feeling from Malcolm [Wilson, M-Sport managing director] and Rich [Millener, team principal], but for me it’s totally true. Don’t forget, when I won the Fiesta Sporting Trophy [in 2009], part of my prize was a year-long apprenticeship with M-Sport.
Having the chance to come over and live and work in a World Rally Championship team was huge for me at that age.
Back then, Rich was starting out with M-Sport. He was the guy running the Sporting Trophy, so that sense of full circle is there with him too. He just made it to a full-time WRC program a wee bit sooner than I did!
I still find it quite incredible that next year will be my first full season. I came so close on a few occasions – including with Citroën when I really thought I’d got every event nailed when a certain nine-time world champion (Sébastien Loeb) landed back into town.
That’s in the past. Right now I’m only looking forwards and I’m really looking forward to what’s coming.
And I always believed this time would come. It took a lot of work and I took some knocks along the way, but I truly thought I would get a shot and I always had a really hankering that it would be with M-Sport.
The moment this becomes a job or the minute testing becomes a drag, I’m done. Trust me, it never willCraig Breen
Like you know, I’ve worked and driven for two of the giants of the sport’s recent history in Citroën and Hyundai – but the welcome I’ve had and the feeling of confidence I’ve taken from my first contact with everybody at M-Sport has surpassed anything I’ve known before.
It’s been truly humbling. Fortunately, there are still the guys there who I worked with in the factory back in 2010 – they’ve promised to keep me making the tea, just to make sure my feet remain very firmly fixed on the ground.
Don’t worry. They will.
The biggest thing that’s really kept me grounded throughout my career is that I’m here to enjoy myself. I’m here doing something I absolutely love. The moment this becomes a job or the minute testing becomes a drag, I’m done. Trust me, it never will. I still get the same feel, the same tingle in my stomach when I fire a rally car up as I ever did.
As long as I can remember, as long as I was watching videos and looking at pictures of Frank Meagher, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do. And I feel genuinely honored and privileged to have the opportunity to do it with M-Sport Ford.
Even more so when you look at the drivers who Malcolm and Rich could have picked.
I think they did the right thing with Paul [Nagle, co-driver] and myself. We’ve shown a good bit of pace in the last few years, which hasn’t always been easy stepping in and out of a World Rally Car. I think we’ve earned this shot.
Having said that, with all the shenanigans going on with co-drivers, I was tempted to chuck Paul a message and tell him I’d sacked him – just to spice the whole co-driver thing up a wee bit more!
That is, of course, just a joke. Anybody who knows me and Paul knows how that man helped to save my career. He stepped in and helped me at a time when it would’ve been very difficult for anybody to do that. I’ll never forget what Paul did for me after we lost ‘Jaffa’ [Breen’s former co-driver Gareth Roberts, who died in 2012].
Paul and me had some time away and then started working together again in 2019. We’ve never looked back since. We’re such a good fit for each other.
I think I’ve done enough talking for now. I’m sure this won’t be the last of these columns I write for DirtFish. We’re at the start of something very, very special right now. The World Rally Championship is about to start a whole new chapter and I couldn’t and wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else right now.