How Breen rediscovered himself in Sweden

Breen knew Hyundai should work for him, but in Sweden Breen proved beyond doubt that it will


Gibberish. It’s not a word we hear often enough. It gets very much to the heart of the matter.

Unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing; nonsense.

Craig Breen’s sentiments exactly.

Through what appeared to be a winter of serious discontent, the affable Irishman kept his powder dry and his mouth shut. He knew what was coming, he knew what he could do.

“It’s true,” he told DirtFish. “I know what I’m capable of and I know that, given the right tools, I can do it again.”

That was Wednesday night. Wading his way through interview after interview, he patiently answered the same questions time and again. He wanted for nothing but his Hyundai – the keys to redemption.


But would they come? He’d used the key before and it had worked, but that was a different car, a different generation. Had the locks been changed with the i20 N Rally1? He thought he knew the answer on Wednesday night. But he didn’t really. How could he?

A day on and still, nothing was really clear. He’d shipped more than a second a mile to the fastest car through the opening Umeå stage. What would Friday morning bring?

A stage win and second place.

By the time the cars were through the rough, rutted, technical and twisty test that was Brattby for the second time, Craig Breen was leading. And not by the blink of an eye. He was already 7.7 seconds up on Ott Tänak.


Through Friday, the emotion built. Stopping the car at the end of SS2, the eyes watered slightly.

“I’ve missed that feeling,” he said. Asking for a fuller explanation at lunchtime on Friday, he offered: “[I’m a] soft little man, but unfortunately you can’t knock that out of me. I’ve missed this feeling.”

A few hours later and still in the lead, he was even more reflective.

“You’ve no idea of the darkest of days that went on last year,” said Breen. “Fortunately, I ride on the crest of waves when things are good, but I also ride the down parts as well. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I tell it the way it is. To have all these gobs****s behind their keyboards thinking they know better… at the end of the day they have no idea.”

Almost every line Breen delivered last week appeared laden with suggestion and insinuation. It was. And it wasn’t.

BREEN_WRC_Japan_2022_601 (1)

What else could he do? For a combination of reasons and a variety of factors, he couldn’t find a rhythm or the right way with the Puma last season. That Tänak was able to jump into it and win on his second outing is a reflection of, perhaps, a broader operating window from the Estonian.

But what could Breen do last year? He tried everything. Of course he did. He wanted the job to work out more than anybody. And so did M-Sport. It would be absolute folly to think otherwise.

But sometimes, even the most obvious marriages can fail. And this one was a very obvious marriage. Breen’s father Ray had worked and driven M-Sport products through his career and Craig had won two world titles (WRC Academy and SWRC) in Fiestas. The Wilsons and Breens were family friends.

This was the dream.


That turned to a nightmare. And be under no illusion, there’s fault on the team’s side too. There was plenty of support early doors, but as the mistakes and issues with the car continued, neither side really had the look of a driver or a team desperate to continue for a second season. In the end Breen walked.

Malcolm Wilson’s enormously pragmatic about the situation. It didn’t work out. Move on. Would he have him back? Yes he would. More than most, Wilson’s very well aware of drivers going around and coming around. Beyond the Tänak thing, there’s Petter Solberg’s 2012 return – and the fall out from the Norwegian’s decision to switch from M-Sport to Subaru in the middle of 2000 was far greater than what’s gone on in the last few months.

Sweden brought deliverance for both. But even when Tänak crossed the line, Wilson wasn’t interested in crowing about what might have been last year. The 2019 world champion has laid the Ford’s faults bare and now they’re going to fix them. What was it MW said? “Ott Tänak won this rally.”

Few would argue that Tänak is a more forceful character than Breen and walking into Dovenby Hall as a world champion brings more gravitas than anything. More than likely, Breen could relate to the issues Tänak talked about last week, but it took the Sweden winner’s voice to really hammer them home.

Ultimately, Breen’s back in his very happy place. And never more so than coming down the road at 120mph on a Swedish Saturday.

Translating James Fulton’s pacenotes into another stage win, Craig couldn’t help himself as he set the Hyundai on the limiter at 120mph towards the end of the Floda stage. Fully focused, he started talking back to James.

“I was just taking it all in to be honest with you,” he smiled. “It was just the most beautiful crisp, dry morning, the way the sun was shining down through the forest. And at nigh-on 200kph… for me anyway, that’s the pinnacle of rallying.

“We all do it to have that buzz and the feeling of the speed. So it was something special, yeah.

2023SWEDEN_FD_ 165

“I won’t lie to you. There were dark times last year, dark days. And it was a struggle at times. I live in the moment. I’m one of these people that live off the good moments, live off the good times, and I wasn’t having any basically.

“So it was taking me to go back and do my historic bits and pieces and that was where I was getting my enjoyment from.

“I thought I should be getting serious enjoyment from driving these cars at the top of the game and, definitely, this weekend has given me all the satisfaction and all those nice feelings that make me get up early in the morning and keep doing this.

“Like I said before, I knew I had it inside me. There were a lot of factors that were holding me back and it was important that I worked on them over the winter to get everything right to fight. It all feels good now.”

Gibberish has, quite literally, left the chat.

Words:David Evans