It would have been easy for Hyundai Motorsport to sit out last week’s Croatia Rally. In fact at one stage, that’s what looked like happening.
But in a bid to remember Craig Breen in the only way he knew, Hyundai went rallying and was rewarded with an emotional third place courtesy of Esapekka Lappi.
And from the Irish flag livery to the quotes pasted on the car and on the service building, or simply Hyundai’s social media hashtag #ForCraig, it did so with several tributes in place.
In what was an incredibly difficult week for all in the World Rally Championship, the boys and girls at Alzenau really stepped it up to honor their late colleague and friend.
Thierry Neuville had made it his mission to deliver the most needed of victories for his team, and was in control of the rally up until Saturday morning when he braked fractionally too late and started a chain of events that led to him damaging the rear-right of his i20 and retiring from the event.
Neuville isn’t the most emotional of drivers, but it’s clear just how frustrated he was with himself to have not converted the lead into a win.
“There’s a lot of things to say about the weekend but especially the last 10 days have been emotionally very, very hard,” he told DirtFish.
“We’ve had highs and very lows as well. Just up and down constantly.
“Until yesterday we were living the dream because, as we said, as a team we were fighting for the victory. We knew it was going to be difficult but we were in the lead, we wanted to defend it.
“But we are constantly driving on the edge to keep at the front. Obviously I made a mistake, so it was a huge disappointment.
“But therefore we wanted to avenge today and we wanted to at least take the powerstage and show a big attack that we were driving for Craig this weekend.”
Neuville delivered on that score while Lappi brought home the hardest-fought podium of his career on what he also described as “the toughest week of my life”.
“What I’ve understood is it was everyone’s own choice to come here who wanted to come,” Lappi revealed.
“I’m sure still the feelings have gone up and down throughout the week and on weekends. No-one was forced to come. Also us, the drivers, we could decide do we want to come here, and yeah I mean it was also, it would have been Craig’s… He wanted for sure that we compete, also his mom and dad said the same.
“And I wanted to come as well so I mean we cannot really say this is business as usual or we just go forward. It’s not like this. But on the other hand, we need to go forward.
“But I think we did it in style, you know. And it’s an amazing effort from the team that did all this livery stuff, all these stickers on the service park.
“So yeah, for sure, it’s the toughest week of my life.”
Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul was understandably proud of his team for braving the event and delivering a podium result.
“This has been a difficult event for all of the rally community and we must thank everyone far and wide for their help, assistance and understanding,” Abiteboul said.
“Looking at the sporting element of this weekend, we had to dive into this wholeheartedly from the outset of the event. This was the will of Craig’s family and what he would have wanted; this is very clear.
“All we have done this week has been for him and in his memory. The motivation of the team, despite the circumstances, was very high, especially Thierry.
“Our collective disappointment was immense when his hunt for victory suddenly stopped on Saturday.
“It was important for us to have a car and a crew represented on the podium today, for Craig. We knew it would mark a poignant milestone in this tough and emotional journey we have been on in the past week.
“We have been able to achieve that with Esapekka [but] it’s important that we put the sporting element to one side now.
“The sequence of events that has happened since that tragic day last Thursday has been incredibly hard on the team; we had to put our emotions on pause but now is the period of reflection.
“It will all come back hard, and it is important that we all find the time to deal with this in our own individual way.”