Breen gets Hyundai call in surprise switch for Rally Finland
Craig Breen has been given a surprise opportunity to return to the World Championship, joining Hyundai for Rally Finland in August.
The two-time Circuit of Ireland winner from Waterford has been competing - and winning - in the Irish Tarmac Championship since he was dropped by Citroen at the end of last season.
But now he will join the manufacturer-leading Hyundai for a one-off WRC appearance in Finland.
The decision by team boss Andrea Adamo to call on Breen to drive a third Hyundai i20 alongside Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen ends weeks of speculation about who would step in after their other contracted drivers, Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo, made it clear they would prefer to skip the ultra-fast Finnish round.
Buzzing with anticipation, Breen said: "I'm chuffed to be given this chance to join Hyundai and to get back in a World Rally Car.
"It's been a long and patient wait, having to watch everyone else drive this year and not be part of the World Championship.
"But I've been keeping busy, getting plenty of seat time and just waiting for an opportunity like this. It will be a challenge but I'm up for it."
He has won the first four rounds of this season's Irish series and was also successful in the Sanremo Rally in Italy. This weekend, he and co-driver Paul Nagle tackle the Ypres Rally in Belgium in an R5 Volkswagen Polo before attending Hyundai's Alzenau factory for a seat fitting ahead of a pre-event test and a preliminary appearance with the team on Rally Estonia next month.
Mikkelsen will also compete in the Estonian event, which is similar in character to Rally Finland.
Breen has a strong record in Finland, finishing in the top five in two of the last three rallies and on the podium with third place behind Kris Meeke in 2016.
Adamo said Breen had been called up because "Rally Finland is a very particular type of event that warrants an approach like no other on the calendar" and as the WRC title battle was "entering a critical phase".
He added: "Breen has demonstrated his class at this event in the past and has a lot of experience, which will be invaluable to us. We are making sure he has enough preparation with Rally Estonia, an event similar in style to Finland, and the pre-event test."
One driver less than pleased when he heard the third Hyundai had gone to Breen was New Zealander Hayden Paddon, who was dropped by the Korean team at the end of last season. Clearly disappointed he hasn't been given a recall, Paddon tweeted: "Is it April Fool's Day?"
His sour grapes won't bother Breen one bit but he admitted it was a "bitter sweet" moment when he got the news of the Hyundai call-up so soon after the death of Manus Kelly during the Donegal International Rally where Breen finished second.
"When I found out that this was going to happen, you can understand my elation, but after last weekend's terrible events it's difficult to be too excited. I know one of the first messages I would be receiving without any doubt would have been from Manus," he said.
Three-time Donegal International winner Kelly was killed when his Hyundai crashed during the final leg of the rally on Sunday. His funeral takes place tomorrow (12 noon) from his home at Churchill near Letterkenny with the service at St Columba's Church.
Special traffic arrangements are being put in place, including park and ride facilities, in anticipation of a huge attendance.
Kelly, who was married with five children, was a leading Letterkenny businessman and just recently had been elected to Donegal County Council.