The biggest problem for Craig Breen in the last few years? Sébastien Loeb.
Just when Breen was limbering up for a maiden full World Rally Championship program with Citroën in 2018, ‘nine times’ walked back into town and drove the C3 WRC in Mexico, Corsica and Spain.
It was always going to be hard to deny Loeb the seat, given his generation-defining history with Citroën. And Loeb repaid the squad with a farewell win in Salou.
Loeb left for Hyundai Motorsport in 2019, where he and Dani Sordo shared a third i20 Coupe WRC. The issue for Andrea Adamo came in the summer of that season, where neither Loeb nor Sordo fancied Finland. Breen stepped in.
Three drivers into one car was never going to offer any of them the most expansive of calendars. That suited two of them. Not Breen.
But that’s history now. As you’ve already read on DirtFish, Wilson and Loeb are talking about next season – but Wilson has stated categorically that Loeb won’t be usurping Breen in his team. Craig will start every round in a Ford Puma Rally1.
Seat time is vital in rallying. Experience is everything. Watching Breen competing in the European Rally Championship this season was frustrating, but it offered a further demonstration of the lengths Breen was prepared to go to stay sharp for when the WRC came knocking.
And now he’s landed the dream drive. Breen will flourish in a full-time program next year.
Will he be world champion? Why not? There are so many parameters coming to play in 2022, it’s impossible to say where the balance of power lies.
Breen’s Puma was the quickest out of the blocks in terms of development, but until we get to Monte Carlo in January, it’s impossible to say who’s where in terms of the hybrid revolution.
Does it matter that it’s been Matthew Wilson and Adrien Fourmaux who have done the development work on the car? Under normal circumstances, yes it would. Ideally, a team would want their lead driver in the seat driving the R&D on the new homologation.
But 2022 is different.
Juho Hänninen has shouldered much of the Yaris WRC testing until now, while Hyundai’s lead drivers are still waiting for a meaningful ride to drive. So, circumstance dictates that Breen’s at no discernible disadvantage heading into the brave new world.
And his lack of experience of rallies?
Places like Mexico, it would have hurt him, but León’s not on the schedule next season. If New Zealand does run as a longhaul, he should be OK – nobody will have competed on the North Island for a decade.
And then there’s Northern Ireland. If the roads around Belfast do replace the Welsh stages as Britain’s WRC round, Breen would be better placed than any other driver in the championship.
If Rally Northern Ireland lands, it’s fair to say all have Craig Breen’s dreams will have come true.
Breen’s fan base is global now, but you only have to talk to rally folk on the Emerald Isle to understand the scope of love and affection for one of their own.
As he looks to start selling top-drawer metal back into Ireland for the first time in a homologation cycle, Malcolm Wilson couldn’t wish for a better salesman.
And Breen works for Ford too. He is one of the most personable, approachable and identifiable drivers in the championship. He lives for the sport and he lives for Ford. His father Ray drove a Focus RS WRC in his time and Craig’s absolute hero, Frank Meagher, never set foot in anything without a Ford badge on the hood.
Ford couldn’t have found itself a better ambassador or a more meaningful prospect for the next generation.