If you’re a World Rally Championship co-driver and enjoy being in the limelight, the past 12 months have definitely been for you.
It’s hard to remember a time when the unsung heroes of every rallying partnership have ever been so in focus following the spate of driver/co-driver moves throughout the 2021 season.
The story has now gone full circle with this week’s news that Pierre-Louis Loubet and Vincent Landais will reunite. Before parting ways last year, the pair had been together since 2015, won the 2019 WRC2 title and progressed into the WRC’s top class together.
Coincidentally, their first event back will be Croatia in 2022 – precisely a year on from their last rally as a working partnership.
But that got us thinking: how many other driver and co-driver partnerships have split but then rekindled their old relationship in a rally car further down the line?
It turns out there have been far more examples of this than you might think. To qualify for the list, the partnership must have competed in the WRC before and again since – therefore examples like Kris Meeke and Chris Patterson competing together on the recent Rally Qatar doesn’t count as it was outwith the world championship.
Here are 10 examples we’ve plucked out from the WRC’s storied history:
Colin McRae & Derek Ringer
Colin McRae may have won 17 of his 25 world rallies alongside Nicky Grist, but it’s with fellow Scot Derek Ringer that he famously claimed the 1995 world title.
Ringer, 12 years McRae’s senior, had been by McRae’s side since 1987, the pair rising through the rallying ranks together. The 1995 world title was the summit of both their careers but the succeeding 1996 season was one of great struggle.
Despite winning three rallies, as many accidents dented McRae and Ringer’s title defense and Tommi Mäkinen dominated for Mitsubishi. At the end of 1996, Ringer felt it was the right time for him the pair split, so Grist was brought in.
McRae and Grist challenged for world titles with Subaru and later Ford while Ringer regressed to the British Rally Championship with Renault and Martin Rowe – winning the 1998 title.
But after almost six full seasons together, McRae and Grist’s partnership was becoming strained towards the end of 2002 and both amicably decided to separate. Ringer, who had been competing with Katsuhiko Taguchi and Mitsubishi, was extracted from his contract to partner McRae for the final two events of ’02 and the entire 2003 season with Citroën.
However, when new rules for 2004 restricted teams to just field two drivers instead of three, McRae and Ringer were dropped from the team and disappeared from the WRC. That was until McRae made a surprise couple of appearances for Škoda – and a one-off for Citroën in place of an injured Sébastien Loeb the following year – in 2005.
And that rekindled another old partnership, as Grist was brought back in for those rallies.
Dani Sordo & Marc Martí
Dani Sordo has been co-driven by numerous fellow Spanish navigators throughout his long WRC career, but Marc Martí has been his longest serving.
First linking up together in 2005 for a Junior WRC campaign in a Citroën C2 S1600, the pair joined Citroën’s works team in 2006 after lifting the crown – partnering Loeb and Daniel Elena for a number of years thereafter.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Martí, who had competed with Citroën in 2003 and ’04 with Carlos Sainz before he retired. But 26 podium finishes later, Sordo brought in Diego Vallejo from Rally Germany 2010 onwards.
2010 was a trying season for Sordo as he was demoted to the Citroën Junior Team for the gravel events due to the rapid rise of a certain Sébastien Ogier. He wasn’t retained for the following season and went to Mini, and then back to Citroën, before joining Hyundai and reviving his relationship with Martí for 2014.
Sordo and Martí stuck together for the next four seasons, scoring another six podiums together, but Rally GB 2017 would prove to be their last as a partnership as Martí accepted a new challenge with rising Spanish driver Nil Solans.
That then reunited Sordo with another co-driver he had previously worked with…
Dani Sordo & Carlos del Barrio
We’ve decided to include two entries for Dani Sordo because of the incredibly intertwined nature of his tenures with both Martí and Carlos del Barrio.
Although Martí is the navigator Sordo made his big WRC break with, Sordo competed with del Barrio first – in 2004, making three appearances in a Mitsubishi and one in a C2 S1600 before the availability of Martí and his years alongside Sainz made him the preferable option.
But del Barrio was far from a WRC newbie, having competed with Jesús Puras for both Seat and Citroën but sadly missing out on Puras’ sole WRC win on the 2001 Tour de Corse because he was partnered with… you guessed it: Martí.
While Sordo and Martí were busy forging their career, del Barrio linked up with Xevi Pons but by 2008 he was back in his native Spanish national championship. That was until Sordo came calling ahead of his short-lived 2011 Mini campaign but del Barrio did guide Sordo to his long-awaited first WRC victory on Rally Germany 2013 following his return to Citroën.
Del Barrio was then back to local rallies as Sordo once again teamed up with Martí until del Barrio was back for 2018 – and he took two further victories with Sordo on Rally Italy in both 2019 and 2020.
Sordo and del Barrio’s partnership ended after the 2021 Monte Carlo Rally as del Barrio was employed to help youngster Fabrizio Zalvidar. Sordo has since used two co-drivers: Borja Rozada and his current partner Cándido Carrera.
Andreas Mikkelsen & Ola Fløene
The narrative of Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Fløene’s relationship resembles that of a love story you’d expect to find in a soap opera rather than a working relationship in a rally car. It’s a tale that begins at the very start of Mikkelsen’s rallying career in 2006 and extends all the way to 2021.
Aside from one WRC event with Maria Andersson, Mikkelsen was paired with Fløene right the way through his early career as a WRC privateer and in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge where the duo scooped back-to-back titles in 2011 and ’12.
But when Mikkelsen’s break with a WRC manufacturer – Volkswagen – finally came the following season, he chose to pair with Mikko Markkula as Fløene switched to partner Pontus Tidemand, who he won the JWRC title with.
However, after Rally Argentina 2014 Mikkelsen and Fløene quickly decided they wanted to renew their partnership and Fløene was parachuted in for Rally Italy in Sardinia; the pair immediately finished fourth.
Fløene was with Mikkelsen for the entirety of 2015 and they both won their first WRC event together on Rally Spain, but for 2016 change was afoot. There was an agreement for Fløene to be replaced by Anders Jæger for 2017, but Fløene opted to jump ship and co-driver for Mads Østberg at M-Sport for 2016, accelerating Jæger’s rise into the WRC.
Mikkelsen and Jæger stayed together for close to five years – winning two rallies – before Jæger decided to step back and concentrate on his growing family. That left Mikkelsen co-driver-less once more and so his old friend Fløene was back for a WRC2 and European Rally Championship campaign.
But midway through 2021 the pair split again, with Fløene off to concentrate on rally raid events and Mikkelsen trying various co-drivers before agreeing terms with Torstein Eriksen for 2022.
Teemu Suninen & Mikko Markkula
It’s interesting how the same names are cropping up in multiple places on this list; perhaps it indicates just what a small world the WRC is.
It didn’t take long for Mikko Markkula to find employment after parting ways with Mikkelsen in 2014, joining Teemu Suninen for the 2015 season in a variety of machinery from a Citroën DS3 R3T to a Ford Fiesta R5 and a Škoda Fabia S2000.
The two remained a pair for the next three seasons after that, completing two seasons of WRC2 in 2016 with a Fabia R5 and 2017 in a Fiesta R5 under M-Sport’s wing. In 2018 they progressed into the WRC as team-mates to Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans.
A third place on Rally Portugal was unquestionably the highlight of what was otherwise a slightly tricky debut season at the top level for Suninen, and a decision was made at the end of it for Marko Salminen to replace Markkula in a bid to change things up.
Salminen would ultimately last seven rallies alongside Suninen though as Jarmo Lehtinen, Mikko Hirvonen’s former co-driver, was brought in instead. Lehtinen had an immediate effect as Suninen scored a podium on his first event with his new navigator, while Markkula’s rallying commitments had slowed down to just occasional appearances in Finland.
But for 2021 Suninen and Markkula were paired together once more as Lehtinen retired and joined Toyota in a management role, and they remain together to this day.
Elfyn Evans & Daniel Barritt
Elfyn Evans has had a variety of co-drivers throughout his WRC career from Andrew Edwards, Phil Pugh, Craig Parry and current partner Scott Martin. But it’s with Barritt that he achieved his first major milestones.
After winning the WRC Academy series in 2012 – what’s now known as the Junior WRC – Evans was in need of a new co-driver as Pugh stepped back to concentrate on his business life, and it was Barritt – complete with plenty of WRC experience alongside the likes of Conrad Rautenbach and Toshi Arai – that was recruited.
The pair were driving a Fiesta R5 for M-Sport in WRC2 but Evans did get a one-off ride in a Fiesta WRC as a last-minute replacement for Nasser Al-Attiyah – although Barritt missed out as only one crew member could be changed at such short notice and so Giovanni Bernachini sat with Evans.
Evans and Barritt stepped up to the WRC full-time in 2014 and were retained in 2015, but despite a standout podium in Corsica they weren’t kept on for the following season. Evans regressed to the British Rally Championship and WRC2 and was joined by Craig Parry while Barritt sat with Takamoto Katsuta.
But when Evans’ WRC return was confirmed in 2017, Barritt was once again enlisted as his co-driver and the duo duly sealed their first WRC win on Rally GB that year.
Aside from missing Corsica – and being replaced by Phil Mills – after suffering a concussion from a Rally México crash, Barritt partnered Evans until the end of 2018 when Scott Martin was recruited and has remained with Evans ever since.
Takamoto Katsuta & Daniel Barritt
In a nice bit of chronology, Barritt’s next move after separating with Evans once more was to reunite with another of his former drivers: Takamoto Katsuta.
When Barritt had accepted the chance to return to Evans’ cockpit for 2017, Katsuta enlisted the services of Marko Salminen for the next two years in a Tommi Mäkinen Racing Fiesta R5 – which included that sensational WRC2 win on Rally Sweden 2018.
But change was afoot for ’19 as Salminen moved to partner Suninen and Barritt was on the market, so an old partnership that never really got going was rekindled.
Barritt’s return with Katsuta coincided with Katsuta’s first opportunities in a Yaris WRC alongside a predominantly R5 and Rally2-based program. But for 2020 the Japanese and British duo were into a World Rally Car full time for Katsuta’s first full season at that level.
Steady progress was made in that first year before a sensational run in 2021 where Katsuta just kept matching or bettering his personal best finish in the WRC. It peaked with second on Safari Rally Kenya which preceded Estonia and a downward spiral.
Barritt injured his back over a jump and missed the rest of the season as first Keaton Williams and then Aaron Johnston were drafted in as substitutes. Despite Barritt returning to fitness, Johnston was kept on for 2022, leaving Barritt without a seat.
Craig Breen & Paul Nagle
Craig Breen and Paul Nagle’s partnership began in tragic circumstances. Competing on the Targa Florio Rally in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, Breen suffered a freak accident that cost co-driver Gareth Roberts his life. But Breen was clear he wanted to continue rallying and fulfill his and Roberts’ shared dream to become World Rally champions.
Paul Nagle had the difficult task of guiding Breen through this tricky phase of his career. Nagle, who was out of work following the collapse of Mini’s WRC program alongside Kris Meeke, did just that though as Breen went on to claim the SWRC title.
The duo was European Rally Championship bound in 2013 with Peugeot but Nagle reappeared in the WRC for Rally Australia and France as a replacement for Mikko Markkula – who sustained two fractured vertebrae in Finland – alongside Andreas Mikkelsen.
That spelled the end of the Breen and Nagle axis as Nagle rejoined Meeke (a relationship that could have also qualified for this list but we’ve omitted as the story isn’t as intriguing as some others) and Breen first utilized Lara Vanneste as an initial replacement before linking up with Scott Martin for 2014.
Breen and Martin stayed together until 2018 and rose into the WRC with Citroën, coincidentally as team-mates to Meeke and Nagle, before Martin joined Evans for ’19 and Meeke – after being sacked halfway through the year – moved to Toyota and brought Sebastian Marshall with them.
As both were jobless Breen and Nagle were reunited once more and won their native Irish Tarmac title alongside some part-time drives for Hyundai between 2019-21. They moved to M-Sport Ford in 2022 and currently head the team’s lineup.
Hayden Paddon & John Kennard
They say a driver and co-driver’s relationship is like a marriage, and if that’s true Hayden Paddon and John Kennard had a pretty good innings. The New Zealanders were together for 12 years before breaking up the band in 2017.
Kennard is a vastly experienced navigator with a WRC career that dates all the way back to 1985, but it’s with Paddon that he’s most remembered for.
The pair debuted in the world championship in 2008 but shot onto the scene in 2010 in a Mitsubishi as part of the Pirelli Star Driver scheme. Winning the PWRC title in 2011 with a Subaru firmly announced their arrival at the top level.
Their big break came in 2014 with a handful of rallies for Hyundai that became a permanent position in the team’s second-string N division for 2015. The peak was unquestionably that sensational Rally Argentina win in 2016 where Paddon obliterated Sébastien Ogier on the powerstage.
But as much as neither party wanted it to end, contingency plans were beginning to be formed for the future. At close to 60, Kennard’s career was coming to a close and so Sebastian Marshall – at this point co-driver for Hyundai development driver Kevin Abbring – was courted to replace Kennard.
Kennard was meant to stop after Rally Finland (the same event he made his debut on in the mid ’80s) but a hip injury accelerated Marshall’s move into the co-drivers’ seat. Marshall was in for Portugal and Kennard never returned.
That was until 2019 when, now without a Hyundai drive, Paddon pieced together a program for M-Sport that ultimately is best forgotten. A testing accident ahead of Rally Finland and the canceled Rally Australia meant it never really got going, but Kennard was back and did sit with Paddon for Rally GB in WRC2.
The pair were supposed to compete on select rounds of 2020 in a Hyundai before COVID-19 had other ideas for them, and now they remain a team back home in New Zealand.
Petter Solberg & Phil Mills
This one is quite a cheeky addition to the list as Petter Solberg and Phil Mills’ careers were both done by the time they reunited and instead their appearance was strictly one-off as part of Solberg’s ‘world tour’ as he waved goodbye to professional motorsport.
But the chance to see the 2003 World Rally champions back together again in a rally car was simply too special not to include here.
Solberg and Mills joined forces pretty much as soon as Solberg reached the WRC. Mills had partnered Mark Higgins in the British Rally Championship – winning the ’97 title – but the opportunity to join Solberg at Ford for 1999 was understandably too great to resist.
However, it’s with Subaru that this partnership is most synonymous. Joining the team in 2000, Solberg and Mills continued to wear the famous blue and gold colors until 2008 when the manufacturer pulled the pin on its WRC program due to the global financial crisis.
Solberg remained in the WRC as a privateer, getting hold of a Citroën Xsara WRC and then a C4 WRC. But after Rally Portugal 2010, Mills announced that he was to leave Solberg to concentrate on other areas in his life – drawing Solberg to label his partnership with Mills as “the strongest relationship between driver and co-driver ever”.
Chris Patterson had the unenviable task of filling Mills’ shoes but remained with Solberg as he moved to Ford, with that partnership ending when Solberg’s rally career ended and rallycross adventure began in 2013.
Solberg and Mills did Rally van Haspenguow together in Belgium in 2014, retiring from the lead with gearbox failure, but their WRC reunion five years later ended far better with a sensational WRC2 win and 10th overall on Rally GB, the event they had won more times than any other.