Hugely respected veteran rallying journalist Martin Holmes died last week. David Evans looks back on the career of one of the most knowledgeable and passionate followers of the sport.
Websites are great, so are books. And both can tell you Alain Ambrosino’s Peugeot 505 was more than nine hours behind the winner at the end of the 1983 Ivory Coast Rally.
Neither, however, could tell you what it was like to stand beneath the trees when the heavens opened just outside Bouake. Neither could talk of the trepidation at crossing broken down wooden bridges or the smell of the coffee brewing over an open fire.
As a journalist on more than 500 rounds of the World Rally Championship Martin Holmes could.
It’s with great sadness that DirtFish heard of Martin’s passing on Thursday night. He was genuinely known and respected right around the world. The first time I reported on Rally Argentina, I arrived at Hotel Las Lajas to be greeted by a 15-foot sign hung high over the front door welcoming Martin Holmes Rallying.
Martin was never far from the source of news. An unrivalled desire for facts meant knowing everything. From the chassis number of the Lancia Beta he shared with Shekhar Mehta to finish fourth on the 1974 Sanremo to the result of the most far off, outlandish rally in a country where few folk even knew what rallying was.
Martin knew rallying. From the moment he discovered the sport while studying to become a solicitor at Southampton University – from where he made his first steps into co-driving in 1959 (and his first step was a big one when he won his first event) – he wanted to know more. His thirst for knowledge, for understanding, simply for the facts was unquenchable.
Graduating from road rallies to national competition, he graduated to become a regular co-driver in the world championship. And he worked with some of the greats, including Timo Mäkinen, Ove Andersson, Chris Sclater, Billy Coleman and Jean Ragnotti – with whom he concluded his co-driving career with fifth place on the 1981 RAC Rally.
Holmes pre-dated the World Rally Championship and remained – until Rally Germany last year – a regular face in the service park and media center. Well known as a co-driver, his fame took off as a journalist. Working in the pre-internet age through his Martin Holmes Rallying agency, he supplied copy and pictures (with the pictures coming mainly from his long-time friend Maurice Selden) to publications around the world.
From 1979, he compiled a season’s worth of words into a book and called it World Rallying. That book would remain an annual treat for fans and industry professionals right through until 2010.
The books, however, didn’t tell all the tales. The best of the stories came over a rapid-fire lunch in the service park. Like the mother and father of all accidents Holmes endured when Finnish star Juhani Kynsilehto launched them and their Escort RS1600 into orbit on the 1000 Lakes Rally. Or the moment Holmes’ persuasion failed him and the policeman was required to pull his gun out to remind Martin that the road really was closed.
Holmes was known by every driver down every generation. A demonstration of that came when Carlos Sainz, answering a question about his retirement from Martin in a press conferences, turned his answer to Martin and to his jeans.
Martin turned 80 earlier this year and to celebrate that moment, he penned a piece about his own career for RallySport Magazine.
“I want to celebrate my 80th birthday, but maybe more than that, even more, I want to start all over again, back where the youngsters are today.”
Martin is survived by one son and three granddaughters – and, of course, his ever-present secretary Ursula Partridge.