Craig Breen & Gareth Roberts: Rallying in heaven

It has been two days since Craig Breen lost his life in a testing accident, but his career was marked by another tearful moment.
Craig Breen started his rallying career back in 2007 when he took part in Tipperary Stonethrowers Stages Rally driving a Honda Civic. Mark Wiley was alongside him for this event and from that year to February 2020, Breen had changed six co-drivers until the time that Gareth Roberts sat next to him. The Welshman navigator (his nickname was Jaffa) began his co-driving career in 2005 and co-drived many drivers including Elfyn Evans in 2008. After Jaffa's split from Evans 15 years ago, he joined Breen in 2009 and together competed in many championships (Ireland Forestry, British rallies and Ford Fiesta Sporting Trophy which was a WRC category). They participated in four events of WRC Ford Fiesta Sporting Trophy and won two of them (Finland, Portugal) with the Ford Fiesta R2 and became champions in Ireland and in that WRC class. A year later, their programme included rallies in Ireland and Great Britain championships and in SWRC class, but, unfortunately, they did not take a victory on the latter category with the Ford Fiesta S2000. In 2011, they decided to compete in IRC, WRC Academy and SWRC where they were victorious only twice as they won two rallies in WRC Academy (Germany, Wales) and clinched the title in that category.

2012 was a very devastating year for Breen. He continued his partnership with Jaffa and competed in two and three rallies in SWRC and IRC championship respectively where they were the most successful crew in Monte Carlo as they won this classic event with the Ford Fiesta S2000. During their seventh outing of the season which was Targa Florio Rally in Sicily, an IRC round, the things did not end up well for Jaffa. They had a fatal accident on June 16 which happened during the eighth stage of the rally when their Peugeot 207 went off the road about five miles from the start of the Cefalu leg. A guard rail entered the car on the right side, where Welshman Roberts was seated. He was killed at the age of 24 years old and many people considered him as a future World Champion co-driver. However, the 22-year old Breen continued his rallying programme that season, as Paul Nagle stepped in to replace Roberts, and managed to clinch the title in SWRC class while he was so touched from his co-driver's death when they announced them in Spain that he was the SWRC Champion and when he won in Wales as this was Jaffa's country. 

Last but not least, it must be mentioned that the motorsport community of Wales reacted immediately and founded a rally, which is in memory of Gareth Roberts and gave his nickname "Jaffa" to the stages, while Breen participated in that race three times, even in the year that Roberts died in 2012, and mentally carried the last one in every stage he competed.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Jaffa would have become a World Champion co-driver", Breen said after Roberts death. 
"He had all the qualities required and more. 
"His personality warmed rooms and his massive beaming smile turned negative situations into positive ones. 
"Once strapped into the car he was the ultimate robotic co-driver with an ability to adapt to any situation and speed".

"After I left on the 17th of June, my parents have been back, but I haven’t", Breen stated. 
"I know a couple of guys there locally who go and take care of the site and people lay flowers for me whenever they’re there, there’s a really nice rockery that’s well taken care of at the site".

After his programmes in ERC and WRC2 class in 2014 and 2015 respectively, Citroen Racing offered him a partial WRC campaign with the DS3 WRC in 2016 and Scott Martin was his co-driver. Both of them finished at the lowest place of the podium in Finland that year which was Breen's maiden podium at the top level. At the end of Finnish Powerstage, a journalist asked him about his feelings and he referred to Jaffa while he was sobbing. As his dream came true after reaching an agreement to take part in WRC, he never forgot his former co-driver as their desire was to compete in World Rally Championship together. This can be proved by the fact that Breen's bio on Twitter still writes: "Living to achieve our dream, miss you Jaff"

The French brand renewed his contract for two more years, but this time he would be a full-season driver and got behind the wheel of the DS3 WRC and the C3 WRC. Unfortunately, he managed to get only one podium these two years while he lost his seat at Citroen as the team signed Sebastien Ogier and Esapekka Lappi in 2019. Hyundai Motorsport offered a two-rally programme to Breen in 2019 and participated in Finland and Wales, but he did not deliver a victory nor a podium to the Koreans. In that year, he parted way with Scott Martin, therefore Paul Nagle returned to the left bucket of his compatriot. From 2020 to 2021, he continued his partial programme with Hyundai securing four podiums with the i20 Coupe WRC. Apart from his outings in WRC that year, he decided to participate in Targa Florio and this was his first time competing there since Jaffa's death. 

"I’m trying to make it as positive an experience as possible", Breen said before returning to Sicily to compete in Targa Floria again. 
"Of course it will be massively difficult and I’m probably one of the more emotional guys so I’m sure it’s going to be tough but it’s what I want to do.
"I always felt it was bad that I didn’t go back, I would just kick it down the road a little bit and I thought I’d wait until I’m finished with the WRC stuff then go back and have a tour around and spend some time there.
"But I’m fit and young enough to have a hope of winning it, so I’d like to do it.
"Italy is sort of a half a home, my heart is half in Italy, but there’s this black spot around Sicily with the accident. 
"I kind of want to take it away I want to remember how nice Italy and Sicily can be".

His aim was to win this rally in memory of Roberts, but eventually he finished second overall with the Hyundai i20 R5 despite his efforts to win this race. Before leaving from Sicily, he went to the place that Jaffa lost his life and sprayed it with champagne after his podium.

He switched to M-Sport Ford colors in 2022 as the Cumbrian-based team offered him a full contract for two seasons, but he finished only two times at the podium positions. However, it must be mentioned that his maiden podium in hybrid era of WRC came at Rallye Monte Carlo where he finished third overall behind the two legends of the championship, Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier. Unfortunately, Malcolm Wilson's team decided to terminate his contract prematurely at the end of last year, therefore he returned to Hyundai Motorsport in 2023. His first outing with the i20N Rally1 was Rally Sweden where he finished in second place overall while he was fighting with Ott Tanak for the win. At the end of one Friday stage, he stated that his come back to Hyundai was a second chance for him and was being very happy with his pace during that weekend, but he did not manage to claim his first WRC victory there. His next participation expected to be Rally Croatia next weekend, but life had other plans for him as he was killed at the age of 33 years old on April 13 during his pre-event test for this tarmac event. The incident happened when he went off the road resulting in hitting a wooden pole with the front right end of his car and eventually dying on the spot. 

Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts were two very ambitious people and had the skills and the talent to become WRC Champions one day. Motorsport community misses them for their great characters and their personalities. Might it be not meant to be to continue their common and successful path together, but their reunion is now in heaven! 

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