Hyundai move an opportunity to reset, insists Craig Breen

Craig Breen insists agreeing to a partial programme in the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship should not be viewed as a backward step – but rather a chance for him to hit the rest button on his career.

As part of his deal to re-join Hyundai Motorsport for next season, the 32-year-old is set to share the third I20 N Rally1 car with Dani Sordo. A similar arrangement previously existed between the two from 2019-2021, with bosses nominating the driver on an event-by-event basis depending on experience.

During his last stint with Hyundai Breen enjoyed successive runner-up results at Rally Estonia, a second place performance at Ypres Rally and third at Rally Finland with Paul Nagle, his former navigator who announced his retirement from the sport’s top flight back in October after a career spanning 18 years.

Those performances brought him to the attention of M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson and Team Principal Richard Millener with a two-year contract being awarded for 2022 and 2023. However, the Irishman struggled to carry his speed, momentum and consistency across the service park and of the 13 rounds that made up this year’s calendar, he paid a visit to the podium on only two occasions.

Third at the curtain raising Monte Carlo Rally in January and second on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia was not the fairy-tale marriage that either side had envisaged. Despite vocal support from fans on the ground and across social media pointing the figure at the Puma Rally1 not being up-dated as often as Toyota Gazoo Racing did with its GR Yaris Rally1 or Hyundai with its initially troubled I20 N Rally1, the decision by Wilson and Millener to let Breen go after Rally Japan did not come as a surprise.

Hyundai move an opportunity to reset, insists Craig Breen

His case was not helped by the heroics of guest driver and nine-time World champion Sebastien Loeb at Monte Carlo. Winning there immediately raised expectations in the Blue Corner which meant when he wasn’t out on the stages, it made an already difficult job for Breen as the new team leader harder still.

Breen, though, has no regrets. “It was nice to get a full season. It was something I was searching for basically since the start of my rallying career, so to finally obtain it and get experience of all the rallies – some were new to me, and some I had not done for quite a number of years – was great,” he said.

“It will stand me in good stead going into next year’s World Rally Championship as there are events that I now have better experience of. I’m really looking forward to put that experience and what I’ve learned into practice and delivering the kind of results I know that I am capable of doing,” he added.

“We had some good speed at times in the Puma but we missed that little bit which I think would have allowed us to fight at the front on all of the rallies. I really don’t think it is down to one particular thing.

“It was just a combination of things didn’t quite work out for us this year. It wasn’t for a lack of trying from both sides, though. We all desperately wanted to make the season the best that we could – but ultimately it didn’t work out. It just went the way it did and from my side it is time to move on now.”

The number of starts Breen and new co-driver James Fulton will make next year has still to be formally communicated by Hyundai although they’re expected to make their debut at February’s Rally Sweden. Beyond that the picture remains unclear given that the 2023 calendar has still to be ratified by the FIA.

Either way, he insists that those calling the shots know what works best for him – and what does not. “I’m not too bothered about which events we do – I know that the team will choose wisely,” he said.

Hyundai move an opportunity to reset, insists Craig Breen

“Me and Dani complement one another quite well I think in so far as the rallies Dani performs well in, I perhaps have less experience and vice versa where the rallies I enjoy Dani less so. The plan can change as the year goes on – there are different factors – but the team will make the correct decision on that.

“The deal may look on paper like a step back but, to me, it is a step forward for my career. It is clear, for whatever reason, this year just didn’t go to plan – it was difficult to get the results that any of us wanted – so it was important that I make some change and this was the change that presented itself.

“I see it as an opportunity to start a fresh and to get back working with people I know in a place where we have enjoyed success in the past, so it is definitely going to be a welcome return for me,” he added. “I am looking forward to the freshness of it all and seeing what we can do – it is a new opportunity.”

On what a successful 2023 would look like in the eyes of the former Junior and S2000 World champion, he is refusing to be drawn on that, choosing instead to adopt the mantra, a happy driver is a fast driver.

“There is no set target, really. I just want to get back to enjoying rallies again and be competitive,” is his frank assessment. “Towards the end of last season especially, I was enjoying it so much, just to be fighting at the front with the best drivers and the best crews in the world. It was an amazing feeling and I just want to get that buzz and excitement of being at the front back again, delivering good results.

“I want to deliver good results for the team and deliver what is expected of me. Seeing the satisfaction on the face of the team members’ faces when you bring home a good result, that is what we do it for and it is my only goal and it should allow me to get back to my best again. At the end of 2021 I was at my pinnacle with Paul and I want to try and bring that back again with James by getting top results.

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