M-Sport Ford has announced Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will spearhead its World Rally Championship challenge for the next two seasons.
Their departure from Hyundai and arrival at M-Sport Ford was announced on Wednesday, just three days after Breen clinched a third successive WRC podium for Hyundai on Rally Finland.
Breen told DirtFish: “This is what I’ve worked for all my life. I’m absolutely delighted to be here with M-Sport and Ford. It’s been a long 12 or so years, but I’m here.
“I think myself, Paul and this team are meeting each other at the right time and in the right way. I’ve got to be honest and say I always felt this would happen. I started my career with M-Sport in a Ford and I always felt this moment would come and this really feels like the right time.”
Breen drove the Puma Rally1 at M-Sport’s private Greystoke test facility last month.
“It was really, really exciting to get to meet the team and to see the Puma for the first time,” said Breen.
“Before I go on, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Andrea [Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport team principal] and all the boys and girls at Hyundai – it’s been a great couple of years with them. But now it’s time for the next step.”
And that next step means a full WRC program for the first time in Breen’s career.
“This is a new beginning,” said Breen. “To be doing the full program and with the next generation of hybrid cars coming, it’s very, very special. I’ve got a lot to learn.
“This is the biggest regulation shake-up in a fairly long time and none of us, not from a driving or an engineering point of view, have any prior knowledge before these cars. It’s going to be an exciting time and driving the car for the first time was a fantastic moment for me.”
M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson admitted the Breen deal had been coming for a while.
“I’ve probably been talking with Craig and his manager for the last couple of years,” Wilson told DirtFish. “And I think Craig’s right, this is something that was coming – it’s a very good fit for us.
“We’ve been monitoring Craig’s results and we’ve been very impressed with what we’ve seen, especially given his limited program in the world championship in the last couple of years.”
Asked if Breen’s absence of a WRC win was a concern, Wilson said: “Not at all. Look where we were with Elfyn [Evans] and with Ott [Tänak] for a number of years. Look at what Craig did again at the weekend [in Finland].
“He was in the thick of the fight there, he finished second in Estonia and, for me, that’s the measure – those high-speed rallies are the ones you look at.
“Those are the rallies where you look for the bravery, the speed and the commitment – if you can drive fast on those roads and master them the way Craig has then you can drive fast anywhere.
“I feel Craig has the experience he needs to mount a challenge now. Yes, he hasn’t done all of the rallies, but he’s been around the championship a good while and, from that side, probably has as much experience as Elfyn. He’s ready for this. He’s mechanically minded, he’s committed, consistent and very, very fast.
“I honestly believe Craig’s knocking on the door of that premier league of drivers right at the very top and, with a two-year deal, we definitely see him making that step forwards.”
After starting his career in an M-Sport-built Ford Fiesta ST, Breen went on to clinch two world titles – the 2011 WRC Academy and 2012 SWRC crown – in M-Sport-built cars.
News on Breen’s team-mates will be announced in due course, with Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith reckoned the most likely names, but Andreas Mikkelsen remaining a possibility.