Motorsport Ireland is now doubly determined to elevate a young Irish driver into the World Rally Championship following the tragic passing of Craig Breen two weeks ago.
Breen was Ireland’s most successful WRC driver, with two class world titles (WRC Academy and SWRC) and nine podium finishes to his name, as well as 34 stage wins.
He was also the only Irishman to compete for a factory WRC team, driving for Citroën, M-Sport Ford and Hyundai throughout his career.
Ireland’s ASN – through support from the Team Ireland Foundation and 1982 Irish Tarmac Rally champion John Coyne – has been working hard to redress that balance though, developing and nurturing Irish talents through the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy.
Currently Josh McErlean, William Creighton and Eamonn Kelly are all competing in the WRC’s support classes – McErlean in WRC2 as a Hyundai Customer Racing junior while between them Creighton and Kelly have won the opening two rounds of this year’s Junior WRC.
McErlean pulled out of last week’s Croatia Rally but with the blessing of the Breen family, Creighton, Kelly and Patrick O’Brien (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) flew the flag for Ireland on what was an extremely emotional weekend.
“These guys were all there as coaches on Tuesday at our Junior development day when Craig was with the Irish Forestry Championship junior drivers, and then two days later the tragedy happened. It was incredibly tough,” Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy coordinator Sean McHugh told DirtFish.
“But we had the blessing of the Breen family and the team around them, from a very early point, that they wanted our young drivers who felt able to go to represent Ireland and rally for Craig.”
The ambition has always been to bring a new Irish driver into the WRC, but there’s now even more determination to make it happen as a tribute to Breen who was a great supporter of the academy.
“Our aim has been to try and find the next world star, and on that journey to develop young men and women into ambassadors and role models for both themselves and the sport. That has always been our aim and, for me and the people I work with, that has been reinforced by recent events,” McHugh added.
“Craig was always a man for ‘you’ve got to get at it, you’ve got to keep pushing’ and that’s very much our aim. To me it has redoubled.
“It just means that we work even harder to honor Craig in the best way we can, which is to get somebody else to his level.”
That process will continue in earnest at next month’s Rally Portugal, where Croatia JWRC winner Kelly will drive a PCRS Hyundai Rally2 as team-mate to McErlean. That i20 is being shared among MI Rally Academy drivers on select WRC rounds throughout the season.