Craig Breen has died in a testing crash in Croatia.
The incident occurred when the 33-year-old Irishman was testing his Hyundai WRC1 with co-driver James Fulton i20 N on Thursday (April 13) ahead of next weekend's Round 4 of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship in Croatia.
Co-driver James Fulton, 32 years old, was unharmed in the accident.
His return to Hyundai in 2023 had proven positive, with Breen leading February's Rally Sweden early before a career-best second place finish, a result he'd also achieved five times previously – but did not ever win a WRC round.
It's the first death on a World Rally Championship event since 2006, and the first death of a driver since Portugal's Augusto Mendes died 34 years ago.
“Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to confirm that driver Craig Breen today lost his life following an accident during the pre-event test for Croatia Rally. Co-driver James Fulton was unharmed in the incident that occurred just after midday local time. Hyundai Motorsport sends its sincerest condolences to Craig's family, friends and his many fans. Hyundai Motorsport will make no further comment at this time.”
The WRC added in a statement: “The WRC family is shocked and saddened to learn of Craig Breen's passing. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of Craig at this incredibly sad time.”
FIA President Ben Sulayem said: “On behalf of the FIA, I extend sincere condolences to the family & friends of Craig Breen following his passing during a private testing accident in Croatia. Our thoughts & prayers are with his loved ones & the Rally community at this difficult time.”
I'm lost for words… Everyone loved Craig for his great Irish character and his enthusiasm for our sport. My thoughts are with his family and friends in this very sad time. RIP Craig, we will miss you pic.twitter.com/shIP75rUw6
— Sébastien Ogier (@SebOgier) April 13, 2023
Craig Breen was born on February 2, 1990, in Waterford, Ireland. His father Ray Breen was Irish National Rally Champion; however Craig began his racing path at the karting before the seemingly inevitable switch to rallying as a 19-year-old.
Craig won the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and British Rally Championship before winning the WRC Driver Academy Cup in 2011. He won the 2012 Super 2000 WRC title in a Ford Fiesta, before Peugeot signed him for the European Rally Championship (ERC) in for 2013, where he finished third for the season.
His first victory came in the ERC the following season at the Acropolis Rally in Greece, while he fulfilled a dream of winning the Circuit of Ireland Rally in 2015 with co-driver Scott Martin.
Breen broke through to the World Rally Championship in 2016 with a part-time campaign with co-driver Martin, taking his first Special Stage win and first podium with third place at Rally Finland.
Breen and Martin continued with Citroen for two more seasons, scoring several podiums, before Breen switched to Hyundai and co-driver Paul Nagle for three rounds in 2019, and two rounds in 2020, which included second place at Rally Estonia in September.
In 2021, Breen and Nagle competed in five WRC rounds with Hyundai, before the opportunity for a full season with M-Sport in 2022 presented itself.
The 2022 campaign didn't turn out well for Breen, who wouldn't do better than the third place he scored on his M-Sport debut at the season-opening Rallye Monte Carlo – largely overshadowed by the stunning cameo of Sebastien Loeb, which gave the Ford Puma victory on debut and the Frenchman's record 80th career win.
Breen's long-time co-driver Paul Nagle retired before the season's end, with James Fulton stepping in for the final event of 2022, Rally Japan.
The return to the Hyundai squad for 2023 was a fresh start for Breen, with a revitalised team under ex-Renault Formula 1 boss, Cyril Abiteboul already seeing a podium for Breen and Fulton's sole outing in Sweden.
Cruelly, Breen's idol, Irish rally driver Frank Meagher, was also killed while at the wheel of a Ford Sierra Cosworth rally car in March 2002, age 39.
Craig Breen's World Rally Championship career included 82 starts, 405 points and nine podiums.