Breen is still very much with us in Croatia

The WRC service park is in mourning, but the rallying fraternity is ready to try and have fun for Craig

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Thierry Neuville’s no stranger to a World Rally Championship press conference. He’s no stranger to delivering one or two important lines in them either.

But Thursday was different. Never before had he had to do something under this agonizing set of circumstances.

The trademark grin that usually lights up his face was gone. The black armband wrapped around Neuville’s left arm said it all.

“I have many great memories,” he said, “but I think we will remember Craig as somebody who lived his dream 110%, who achieved his goal in life by getting into the WRC and driving the fastest cars in the world.


“He was living it flat out and that is something I think we will always remember. I won’t forget his Irish humor and the tea he used to drink, so I will have a lot of memories that I will keep in my mind.”

Neuville’s words reflected a Hyundai team, and a WRC family, very much still in mourning.

Arriving in Zagreb, the mood was forlorn. The usual hype that gradually builds as WRC week progresses had been extinguished by the tragic, and all too premature, passing of Craig Breen just seven days ago.


All we can all think about is the loss of our colleague. And for many of us, the loss of our friend.

Everyone in the service park has been fighting a constant mental battle: the sense that it’s impossible, almost wrong, to be going rallying so soon, juxtaposed with the knowledge that this is what Craig would have wanted.

To go rallying, and to do it with a smile etched on our faces.

“I know there is a message that we need to transmit now, not only for ourselves but for other people,” Neuville said.

“It is something that I have realized that we have often forgotten over the past years.

“First of all, we need to have fun, and I think that was one of the strongest messages he was transmitting.

“I had the chance to go to Ireland this week and meet Breen’s family to see his mother [Jackie].

“I will never forget it as she took my face in her two hands and said ‘I want to see you smile, Craig was smiling most of the time and you guys need to transmit that message to the people out there.'”

None of it will be easy. It certainly hasn’t been up until now.

Sitting in the media center last night as Cyril Abiteboul delivered a pre-written statement, determining the facts as they stand from last week’s accident, was harrowing.

Watching Esapekka Lappi on the verge of tears at the end of shakedown as he spoke about his lost team-mate was heart-breaking.

But as the hashtag on the side of the Finn’s Hyundai reads, we’re doing this for Craig.

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There’s a joint sense of responsibility, shared by all of us, to find a way to enjoy this passion that gave Breen so much energy and so much joy.

As difficult as it feels, we owe it to the people’s champion to do it.

Hyundai Motorsport deserves a lot of credit for helping in that mission. Just its participation helps bring a small degree of normality to an otherwise devastating and very much abnormal situation.

Running its i20 N Rally1s in the colors of the Irish flag is a classy touch – adding stickers of inspiring Craig quotes to the door sills is even better.

And bringing the car he was supposed to drive to the service park – positioned as a memorial underneath a commemorative banner – has allowed us all to remember him and to pay our respects in our chosen way.


Cruelly it isn’t in the way it should have been, but Breen’s presence still very much remains in the Croatia Rally service park.

As we all gathered together for a WRC family group photo and turned our heads to watch a tribute video in Craig’s honor, the sun pierced through the clouds to greet us –  just as the video drew to a close.

I’m not a particularly spiritual man, but I’m sure that was Craig smiling down on us. He’s ready to rally, only this time it’s us taking him on our journey rather than him welcoming us on his.

“It’s difficult, it’s demanding – it’s so hard for all of us,” confessed Ott Tänak. “It’s empty inside and it’s eating us alive, so it’s tough.


“But I know that we need to give a smile for Jackie, she had so much positive energy when I was there last Sunday and they are such lovely people.

“They grew such a happy kid so I was really happy to be there with them, thank you so much for that energy.

“We keep going… we keep going and so do you.

“Thank you.”

Words:Luke Barry