World Rally Championship star Craig Breen has told the finalists of Motorsport Ireland’s Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver of the Year award that winning the prestigious prize will put them on the fast-track to international success.
Breen, who this year became the first ever driver from the Republic of Ireland to secure a WRC works seat, said he can trace his success back to winning the Billy Coleman Award seven years ago.
It comes as Callum Devine (Co Derry), Gary McNamee (Co Meath) and Josh Moffett (Co Monaghan) are officially announced as the finalists for the 2016 Billy Coleman Award.
The three drivers were chosen from a shortlist of eight candidates who were nominated for the award on the merits of their performances during the year. All eight faced a rigorous selection process which included interviews from a panel of five judges comprising members of the media, an official from Sport Ireland (formerly the Irish Sports Council) current driver and a representative of Irish motorsport clubs.
The Billy Coleman Award is internationally-recognised as the most prestigious accolade that any young driver on the island of Ireland can aspire to. It comes with a prize valued at €50,000 in supports to help the winner boost their career. All three finalists will be included in the Team Ireland development programme run by Motorsport Ireland to nurture and support young drivers.
Past winners have included many drivers who have gone on to compete at the highest level, winning multiple British Rally championships and flying the flag at European and World Rally Championship level. Breen (26), who won the award in 2009, will drive for Citroën next season in their newly developed C3 WRC car. He spoke about how important winning the award was for his career.
Breen said: “It seems hard to believe that it is now seven years since my trip to Dublin for my Billy Coleman Award interviews. I was nervous, overdressed, but incredibly motivated. I had been given a lot of stick during the year, as I had got my nomination through what was known then as the National Junior Rally Championship, where a lot of my competitors were driving budget cars, where as I was in a far superior R2 car. That didn’t bother me though, I had my ticket in the door, and I was going to sell myself as best I could, as this was the next step on the way to my dream.
“I remember the interview well, and we had a very clear and focused plan if we should win the award, and I did everything in my power to prove to the panel that I had what it took to go all the way. I can still remember getting the call, sitting at my desk in work saying that I had won, and that was the day that my career really lifted off the ground.
“This year I got my big break in the WRC with the Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, and of course now a two-year contract with Citroen.
“These past seven years all evolve from that day in Dawson Street in 2009. The plan was always to make it to where we are today, and even if the journey hasn’t been how we expected, I am hugely grateful of the opportunity that was given to me by Motorsport Ireland and the Irish Sports Council, I wouldn’t be where I am today was it not for their support.”
A spokesman for the Motorsport Ireland judging panel said: “Drivers who win the Billy Coleman Award frequently go on to achieve great things in their careers. With Craig securing a works drive for the 2017 World Rally Championship all our young drivers can see that there is an opportunity to succeed at the top of their sport.
“There is a wealth of driving talent in the country and an incredible standard was set by all the drivers that were interviewed. Every one of them deserved their opportunity but unfortunately only three can be chosen.”
The three finalists for the Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver of the Year are (listed alphabetically):
Callum Devine (age 22) – Claudy, Co Derry
Gary McNamee (age 24) – Oldcastle, Co Meath
Josh Moffett (age 24) – Clontibret, Co Monaghan
The overall winner of the 2016 award will be announced at the Irish Motorsport awards ceremony which will take place on Tuesday, December 13th. The winner will be expected to represent the sport at home and abroad over the time that they hold the title of Young Rally Driver of the Year. Motorsport Ireland’s Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver of the Year award is presented annually and is supported by Sport Ireland, affiliated motor clubs and Motorsport Ireland.