Had things gone according to the original script, Elliott Edmondson would be busy preparing for Rally Finland alongside Gus Greensmith in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC right now.
But instead, he’ll be strapped into Andreas Mikkelsen’s Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo this weekend, competing on Rally Fafe in the European Rally Championship.
This might appear like a step backwards at face value, but Edmondson isn’t about to complain given the turbulent last six months he’s experienced, having gone from being a factory World Rally Championship co-driver to unemployed in almost an instant.
That’s the brutal life of being a professional co-driver in the WRC. Chris Patterson was brought in to partner Greensmith from Rally Croatia onwards, leaving Edmondson out in the cold – through no fault of his own.
It’s widely acknowledged that Greensmith’s performances have gone up a level since the switch was made, so it’s clear that it wasn’t necessarily the wrong decision from a sporting perspective.
But there’s a human element to consider too, and as much as Edmondson admits he won’t “sit here and be bitter about it” it’s equally clear that this was “a bit of a kick in the teeth” for him to deal with as he was arguably performing at a higher level than Greensmith was before the split.
“It was pretty abrupt,” Edmondson reflects. “I’ll not go into details but it wasn’t something that was on the timeline for a little while, it wasn’t some kind of long-term discussion that led to any indication, there wasn’t any warning, which is what it is.
“I understood their reasons for making the change but it was a tough one to take.”
Edmondson went from a 10-year routine of traveling the world before arriving home, preparing for the next rally and hopping on a flight again, to “actually not having anywhere to be [or] anything to do”.
This wasn’t just “really tough” to get his head around, but also threatened the reputation Edmondson had fought hard to construct. The longer he spent at home, the harder it was likely going to be to reclaim a seat that he’d proved he deserved.
“Do you know when people struggle when they retire from motorsport and rallying because they just don’t know what to do with themselves? I got a glimpse of that; what do you do next?” he says.
“Normally as soon as you get back from one rally you straightaway focus on the next one and it was a really strange feeling [to not be doing that anymore] to be honest.
I thought, 'maybe that was my chance in WRC and that was it'Elliott Edmondson
“There were definitely some points throughout the six months where I thought, ‘maybe that’s it’. The options were drying up and I thought, ‘maybe that was my chance in WRC and that was it’.”
However, 2021 has been no ordinary season on the co-driving front. Thierry Neuville made the headlines on the dawn of the season when he and long-time partner Nicolas Gilsoul unexpectedly split, and Martijn Wydaeghe was drafted in at the very last minute.
Little did we know that this would be a precursor for things to come. Over half of the factory drivers have made a change to the right-hand seat this season, so although Edmondson was quite clearly disadvantaged by the merry-go-round as he lost his seat with Greensmith, other opportunities did begin to arise.
Just under six months after Arctic Rally Finland – his last event with Greensmith – Edmondson was back in a rally car, albeit in the British Rally Championship, alongside M-Sport test driver Matthew Wilson and they won the Grampian Forest Rally in Scotland together.
This was the start of Edmondson’s comeback. He’s now won three rallies on the bounce, including his first overall international victory in the Azores, and will remain with Mikkelsen for the next two rounds of the ERC too.
“It all happened very-last minute [with Mikkelsen],” Edmondson admits.
“It only really started coming about two, three weeks maybe before Greece [the Acropolis Rally]. I actually had a contact for Andreas, so when the split between him and Ola [Fløene] came about I dropped him an email and was like, ‘just to let you know, if you ever fancied going to a British co-driver, I’m available and it’ll be good if we can have a chat if there’s any possibility’.
“And he came back to me pretty quickly and said, ‘yeah, you’re on the list of co-drivers I want to try, I’d like to try quite a few this year. Some English, some Norwegian and see what works best for me. I’ll be in touch when I’ve got a test we can go and trial’.
“Pretty shortly after that he offered me the chance to come to a Pirelli development test in Sardinia which was the week before Greece, and that’s all we were due to be doing – a two-day test in Sardinia – and that went really, really well.
“I came home from there on the Thursday and he was let down by one or both of his Norweigan co-drivers, so that Thursday I got back he called me and said, ‘do you want to come and do Greece and Azores?’ And I flew on the Friday.
“Honestly it was 24 hours notice to go and do the two rallies,” Edmondson laughs, “but I think it was good like that. We were in the zone, we’d just done the two-day test and we just managed to build on that really.
“It’s not the nicest preparing for two rallies in one day, and not the best way when it’s your first two rallies with a new driver – you want to be absolutely on top of your game – but it was still really good. It’s working really well so far.”
So although Edmondson did enjoy aspects of home life, being afforded the chance to get “his priorities right” and spend some more time at home with girlfriend Lianne, “it gave me that time to think about what I want and now I know I definitely want to be back in WRC”.
“It’s probably reignited something in me truthfully, and I just want to do more and more now,” he adds, speaking about his lay-off. “And it’s looking quite good.
“Once things started happening with Andreas, and I realized I’d sort of figured my way back in, it properly reignited something and it was really, really good to get back. I’m properly ready for more.”
It’s clear from DirtFish’s conversation with Edmondson that he’s rediscovered his mojo. There’s a real joy in his voice when he speaks about his new, and hopefully permanent, partnership with Mikkelsen, describing rallying with him as “really good fun”.
There’s parts of Gus’s character which were holding him back I think and Chris won’t tolerate that sort of stuffElliott Edmondson on Greensmith and Patterson's partnership
If he had lost any love for rallying it was certainly only temporary as when he picked up DirtFish’s call he was on the way to watch the latest round of the British championship in Yorkshire. This, Lianne jovially gests, is Edmondson’s idea of a romantic weekend.
It would be remiss of DirtFish not to ask the question likely on many people’s minds at this point though: what has Edmondson made of Greensmith’s WRC performances since he’s been partnered with Patterson?
There’s been a lot of praise directed towards Patterson – often citing his impressive experience – for unlocking something new within Greensmith. How has that been for Edmondson to witness?
“Chris is a hugely experienced guy and there’s no doubt there’s things he can bring to the table with his experience, he’s been there and done it,” is the initial response.
“At the end of the day it’s all about having that right connection between the driver and the co-driver and just because it doesn’t work with one co-driver and a driver, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either of them, it’s just it didn’t work out.
“Like relationships, sometimes it doesn’t click. We’d had two and a half good years but maybe it had run its course. Chris is a great co-driver and there’s no doubt there’s things he’s brought to the table.
“There’s parts of Gus’s character which were holding him back I think and Chris won’t tolerate that sort of stuff. It’s that side of things I think Chris is there to improve really.
“It wasn’t a co-driver performance thing, they were quite vocal about that [when the decision was made]. It wasn’t an actual performance thing it was a managing Gus’s character more than anything which I’ve no qualms with.
“I’ve no doubt Chris is better at that than me, he’s an older guy and has more authority in the car than I did.”
Time heals pain. When Edmondson was dumped and his career was on the line, “it did get me down a little bit”. But now, having had time to digest it all and having worked incredibly hard to reestablish his career trajectory, Edmondson is aware “it couldn’t have gone much better”.
“It’s great just being back in the WRC circle,” he says.
“I don’t want to be too philosophical perhaps and say everything’s supposed to happen for a reason, but certainly so far, if it continues to work well with Andreas, you could say it all was supposed to happen for a reason.
“Certainly if I was still tied up, contracted with Gus I would never have been in a position to take this opportunity with Andreas.
“None of us know how Gus’s career is going to go but certainly Andreas has got a good a chance as anybody of being back in a factory seat so for the moment, it’s all come out pretty good.
“Obviously it was unplanned, but at the moment it feels like it’s all come out quite good.”