Craig Breen says it was the hardest decision of his life to return to the wheel of a rally car following the death of his co-driver Gareth Roberts in Sicily last month.
Roberts, a 24-year-old Welshman, died when their Peugeot hit a guard rail during the Targa Florio, a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge early last month.
Breen made a low-key, unannounced appearance in the Nicky Grist Rally in Wales on Saturday, a pre-cursor to a return to the World championship in Finland at the beginning of next month.
“This has been the hardest decision of my life,” said Breen.
“I will never fully come to terms with Gareth's death and it is only with the support of my own family and Gareth's family that I'm now ready to take the next step.
“I will never forget him, we were firstly a driver/co-driver partnership but most of all we were best friends.”
The support of the Roberts family was demonstrated on Saturday when Gareth’s brother, Dai — who regularly partners Ulsterman Jonny Greer — bravely stepped into the co-driver’s seat alongside Breen in a borrowed Mitsubishi Lancer.
They retired with mechanical trouble after four stages but just being back in a rally car was an important step for Breen.
“Getting back behind the wheel again without the little man was emotionally hard but I know that Gareth would want me to continue,” he said.
He will now turn his attention to Rally Finland where he will be partnered in his S2000 Ford Fiesta by Kris Meeke’s experienced co-driver, Paul Nagle.
Breen had been leading the World S2000 championship but has since been overtaken by Hayden Paddon who won his home round in New Zealand — an event the 23-year-old Waterford driver sat out following the Sicilian crash.
Nagle won the Intercontinental Challenge title alongside Meeke in 2009 and moved with him to the Mini World championship team last season.
But, like the Dungannon driver, he has been sidelined this season by the funding crisis which has hit the Mini team.
The Finnish entry list also includes Tyrone’s Alastair Fisher, who currently leads the World championship Academy series.