“I’m still me” – How Breen’s approaching Hyundai return

Craig Breen's showing maturity and optimism as he moves back to the team he left just over a year ago


Few folk will have been as pleased as Craig Breen to see the back of last season. The M-Sport thing – a match made in heaven on paper – simply didn’t work. Divorce done, Breen was looking forward to a full-time role alongside Thierry Neuville.

Then Esapekka Lappi landed and the landscape changed again.

Full-time turned part-time and Breen’s frustration was understandable.

Talking to the 32-year-old in the wake of what’s been a fairly tricky six months or so, what strikes you the most is the maturity of approach and his ability to reach so quickly for context.

He takes a breath and offers: “With the whole musical chairs [at the end of last season] there were obviously people that missed out completely, so I’m happy enough with what I’ve got.”

Don’t misunderstand him, missing next week’s Monte Carlo – a place where he landed his maiden podium for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – hurts.

“There was disappointment when I heard about it,” he says. “There was probably a week or 10 days I was quite sure I had the full program and then it was all change at the last minute but at the end of the day it’s still a good program.

“To be honest with you, when I knew that the goal posts had moved somewhat and that Lappi had got it, it sort of made sense to me.

“On paper I didn’t have the best of seasons last year. Perhaps, if it was the end of ’21 and EP got it, I’d be a little bit more cheesed off. Honestly, on paper, EP had a very good year last year, he’s a strong talent and I understand completely why they would have went that way.


“At the end of the day I want to get a full season, that’s clear, and this gives me more drive to step forward to get that full-time seat back again.”

See what I mean?

Breen only needs to compare his own situation with that of Andreas Mikkelsen, who told Škoda in October he wouldn’t be available for it in 2023. His own move back to Hyundai was metaphorically signed and sealed, only for it never to be delivered.

Breen’s the one wearing the overalls, even if it is for half the rallies.

With no appetite for reproach, he’s keen to look forward. And if he has to look backwards, he’d rather look to just before Christmas, when he drove the i20 N Rally1 for the first time on snow in Finland.

There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be back to the top Craig Breen

“It all felt really nice,” he says. “Being on snow, it wasn’t so easy to compare because we haven’t driven the Puma on snow for a long time – but honestly it all felt really nice. I was comfortable with it, I enjoyed it, nice to be back working with the guys and girls again and it was a good day.

“We’ve got another day before the first event and that will give us a better idea where we’re at.”

There’s irony in Breen’s apparent refuge in Hyundai after such a long and storied route to the top of the WRC with M-Sport. It was, don’t forget, with Malcolm Wilson’s team that Breen won both his WRC Academy and S2000 world titles.

That’s not lost on him.

He adds quietly: “There’s a lot of change in one way, but a lot of similarities in another so, yeah honestly, I’m looking forward to getting going now.”

Always a popular and productive member of the team, Breen will be welcomed back to Alzenau with open arms.

“This is the best opportunity for me to get back on it. I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of why it didn’t work. This is the best option for me.

“Last season was a bitter pill to swallow. It was very, very clear that all parties involved wanted the best, no-one went to any of those events with the intention of bad results or not performing as best we can.


“We all put everything we could into it and sometimes things just don’t work out. That’s the way the cards were dealt for both of us and we just have to move on now and try to do the best we can.”

Breen’s strength has been sorely tested across the last 12 months. Psychologically, the backward step from the dream drive to a part-time deal isn’t an easy one to take. Like he said, he’s not about the ins or the outs. He’s about 2023 and making the most of what sits on his plate.

A plate that sits alongside a glass which is very much half full.

He says: “It’s clear it was difficult to enjoy last year for the way that the season unfolded and, obviously, to get back to having fun, getting the most out of the car and enjoying it is important.


“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be back to the top. At the end of the day, I’m still me. I’d like to think I haven’t forgotten what I knew back then.

“OK, the level moves forward but it’s the same people, the same teams that were in the championship back then that are [there] now, so it’s not as if things have dramatically changed in any way that way.

“It’s just a case of getting up and getting into it again.”

And in the blue and orange once more, that’s precisely what he’ll be doing from Sweden onwards.

Words:David Evans