Friends reunited after 20 years

Two decades ago, Guerlain Chicherit and Mathieu Baumel were competing together in the JWRC. This week, it's the W2RC

Chicherit PotW Girardo Overlay

Twenty years ago, a pair of fresh-faced Frenchmen were on a mission on the stages around Antalya, Turkey. The third round of the 2004 Junior World Rally Championship provided the next generation of rally drivers perhaps one of the most demanding tests on that year’s calendar.

Aboard the iconic Citroën Saxo S1600 were Guerlain Chicherit and Mathieu Baumel. They finished fourth in class and continued their association for the next five seasons before going their separate ways.

That is, until this weekend, where they will reunite for one round only in the World Rally-Raid Championship’s third stop on its 2024 schedule, the BP Ultimate Portugal Rally-Raid.

As the saying goes ‘time changes and so do people’, this could be no truer than with the Chicherit-Baumel dynamic after their long hiatus.

They’ve had their ups and downs and the split, while amicable, was needed at their respective career crossroads.

Baumel went on to forge a long and successful stint with Nasser Al-Attiyah, winning countless Middle East Rally Championship titles, a pair of World Rally-Raid Championship crowns and four out of Nasser’s five Dakar Rally wins together.

That partnership is now at an end. And with Chicherit’s regular navigator Alex Winoq recovering from a back injury sustained on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, it has paved the way for the most unexpected of comebacks.

Baumel says that Chicherit is “less fiery than 20 years ago”, and that possibly gives us a good insight into how that Rally Turkey event panned out.

Rally of Turkey 2004

They won the second test and led the JWRC class overall for four stages. Up against the might of Suzuki’s Kosti Katajamäki, Guy Wilks and Per Gunnar Andersson, Chicherit slipped back on the second leg but still finished a respectable fourth place, albeit nearly three minutes down on the winner Andersson.

Unfortunately, that fourth place was as good as it got for Baumel and Chicherit come season’s end, as the rest of the campaign was nothing short of a disaster results-wise.

Of the seven events, Turkey was their only finish.

The only positive in hindsight? Chicherit ended the year one place ahead of future WRC driver and Toyota Gazoo Racing team boss Jari-Matti Latvala.

Every cloud and all that…

The BP Ultimate Portugal Rally-Raid takes place between April 3-7 and is the first cross-border event in the short history of the World Rally-Raid Championship.

For Chicherit, the latest round holds even more importance. He currently lies third in the standings, just three points shy of Al-Attiyah and 12 adrift of Carlos Sainz.

Neither are contesting the full season, so Chicherit has his eyes firmly set on boosting his hopes of a world championship title come October.