How Breen’s new co-driver climbed his way to the WRC

The latest addition to the World Rally Championship fold is about to sit alongside his rallying idol Craig Breen


It’s Tuesday afternoon. It’s a huge moment in the career (and life) of a 30-year-old, Irish co-driver. Yet you wouldn’t know it.

A few hours earlier, James Fulton was confirmed as Craig Breen’s new co-driver in the World Rally Championship, starting from next month’s Rally Japan.

But there’s no celebrating, no getting carried away. Everything is normal in Fulton’s world. Instead, he picks up the phone just after a lunchtime gym session.

Fulton tentatively agrees to a quick chat with DirtFish – not wanting to get too caught up in all the media frenzy around the news until he’s done his final rally (next week’s Rally Spain) with current driver Josh McErlean.

“Let’s do something small,” he says. “It’s good to keep you lads happy and on side!”

As you’d expect, Fulton has known about his future a little longer than we have. He first worked with Breen back on Safari Rally Kenya and, when not competing himself, has been part of Breen’s background team – helping him with pacenotes, learning his working practices, and even sitting in on tests as recently as for Rally Spain.

But even still, Fulton admits it only really started to feel real when the announcement came that Paul Nagle would be stepping back from World Rally Championship competition.

And that’s rather appropriate as Nagle has been helping Fulton quite closely over the past few years. But this Rally1 opportunity is one Fulton has fully earned on his own.


Like so many who start out in our sport, Fulton had the dream of making the WRC.

First competing back in 2012, he quickly realized rallying was something he loved, and he was good at. Years alongside the Moffett brothers – Josh and Sam – in Ireland helped boost his profile, while exploits in America, the Middle East, European Rally Championship and now WRC2 have helped edge him towards that final goal of reaching the WRC.

“When I started rallying it was just with friends,” Fulton shares.

“Gary Kiernan, one of the top guys here in Ireland in an Escort, he was one of my best friends growing up, so I fell in with him, didn’t really think much of it at the time, it was just a bit of craic.


“But it’s developed quite quickly into a passion and something I knew I wanted to give a proper go and try to make a career out of. It’s always been the aim to be honest, I’ve felt I can do this, so I’ve always taken any opportunity I’ve got.

“There’s been a lot of drivers who have given me chances, the likes of Sam Moffett, Barry McKenna and several others through the years, I owe a lot to them.”

Some great seats to have, and they’ve all prepared Fulton for this opportunity – which is not just any seat, but the seat. For an Irishman to be paired up with Ireland’s most prominent rally driver in a factory rally team is the dream ride.

“That goes without saying,” says Fulton. “Here in Ireland, he’s always… even when I was coming up through the ranks Craig was always the one doing the rallies abroad.

“He’s always been the one you’ve always been looking up to, so to actually be sitting with him now… yeah, it’s pretty sweet.”

Maybe I should get some sort of commission as a talent factory? James Fulton's now former driver Josh McErlean

Undoubtedly, there’ll be pressure upon Fulton’s shoulders. He joins a driver stuck in a sticky patch of form, and under no illusions that a difficult season again next year could spell the end of his WRC dream.

An analogy about jumping and the deep end of a swimming pool immediately springs to mind. But there’s pressure on everyone whenever they reach the highest level, so it’ll be business as usual as far as Fulton is concerned.

Spare a thought for the driver he leaves behind, McErlean, though. Fulton’s promotion is now the third co-driver in succession that McErlean has lost to a factory WRC driver – following Aaron Johnston and Keaton Williams before him.

“Maybe I should get some sort of commission as a talent factory?” he laughs.

McErlean Josh

But there are “no ill feelings” on McErlean’s end, who is sure Fulton has all the qualities to succeed.

“I think any co-driver has to be laid back in some way,” McErlean tells DirtFish.

“I think most of the good ones, they don’t get, let’s say, too tangled up in situations and they can take it in their stride as such and you can see this attitude from all the good co-drivers I’ve had anyway, so it’s just trying to find another one with the same approach!

“But yeah overall, James is a professional, he does it right, he spends the time on it. Obviously each one of us wants to do the best we can, and this is an opportunity that came about for him, and you can’t hold it against him.

“He wants to be at the top so why not take it? If anybody had this opportunity they’d grab it with both hands, so there’s no ill feelings there.”

McErlean Josh

That exciting new chapter on the horizon can wait though as far as Fulton’s concerned. Finishing what’s, at times, been a tricky campaign alongside McErlean on a high on next week’s Rally Spain is at the forefront of his mind.

“Since the start working with Josh it’s been brilliant to be fair, he’s become one of my best mates as well, he’s a really, really good fella and it would be nice to end on a good result next week to finish off our time together,” he says.

“The whole Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy team – John Coyne, Sean McHugh – they gave me the opportunity to sit with Josh and have put so much backing into us this year, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have the opportunity now to go with Craig.

“What they’re doing for people in Ireland and motorsport in Ireland is unrivalled, it’s quite unique.


“I can win a championship next weekend too, WRC2 Junior co-drivers, so it would be nice to get that for the team also.”

These are modest words, and the first glimpses into a character that the wider rallying world is going to get to know very well over the next 12 months and beyond.

It’s exciting to see youth given a chance, when it would’ve been easy for Breen to go for a more established option. But hard work will always pay off, and Fulton is more than up to the job. It’s now just a waiting game for that new job to begin.

“I’m really looking forward to getting into it,” Fulton says, teasing himself, just for a moment, over what’s set to come.

There won’t be many normal Tuesday afternoons in 2023.

Words:Luke Barry

Photos:M-Sport, Red Bull