How an Irish rally offered Breen WRC therapy

Breen won the Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally last weekend with his best mate co-driving


Mid-season was supposed to be Craig Breen’s purple patch.

He knew some events on the World Rally Championship calendar would be a struggle for him. Events he’d not done for many years, if at all, during his bit-part seasons for other teams.

But a run of three rallies was supposed to be the turning point. Estonia–Finland–Belgium. He’d scored podiums on all of them last year. This would be where he could really show what he could do with the Ford Puma Rally1.

Both Estonia and Finland ended in disaster. In Estonia he went off and hit a concrete post laying in the grassy undergrowth. Meanwhile, running a little wide over a jump in Finland bit him back hard.

Becoming disillusioned with rallying would be understandable. Everything had gone wrong at the exact moment it was supposed to be going right.

A reboot was needed. Breen needed to rediscover why he’d spent his whole life working towards becoming a professional rally driver.

Hitting that rock embedded into the side of a Finnish bank triggered an idea. A return to the basics. A reminder of why rallying is the best job in the world – even when it feels like the world is collapsing around you.

It’s just as well Breen’s quip about selling his dad’s Focus WRC ‘06 to its original driver, Marcus Gronhölm, didn’t come to pass. Because he needed it for himself. Home was calling. The Cork Forest Rally beckoned.

“I have to say, it was a barrel of laughs, really enjoyed it. I badly needed it,” Breen told DirtFish.

This wasn’t about chasing a result, or refining the notes, or even learning anything. It was about rediscovering the fun side of sliding a rally car down gravel roads between the trees.

Breen didn’t link up with Paul Nagle, or even John Rowan who’s sat alongside him on occasion, for his local rally. Instead, he’d rung up his best mate from back home, John Boden, who’d never co-driven a rally before.

“First day at school, we sat down next to each other, 30 years ago near enough and still best friends to this day,” said Breen of Boden – or ‘Bobo’, as he calls him.

That made a difference. There was no methodically watching back recce videos or constantly revising pacenotes.

It was the escape Breen dearly needed after two rallies gone wrong.

“I’d decided already on the Saturday-Sunday in Finland that I needed to go back home for a bit of therapy. It was perfect, really enjoyed the day out.

“I had Bobo with me, never opened the pacenote book until the Friday morning of the rally. I had to do the roadbook and the timecards.

“To be fair to him, he was pretty good on the notes but just had a day’s fun and enjoyed it immensely.”

Playtime is over and it’s back to the serious business of WRC this week. Nagle is back in the navigator’s seat and the pressure to deliver is back on.

But Breen has at least arrived in Belgium with a fresh reminder of why he’s spent decades working to get that M-Sport seat in the first place.