What the UK’s doing for its co-drivers

Luke Barry was invited to experience the Motorsport UK Co-Driver Academy program at M-Sport last week

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Looking at flights from Tallinn to Porto for Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja wasn’t how I saw my Tuesday evening going, but there I was scanning Skyscanner in a bid to get the 2019 World Rally champions to their pre-Rally Portugal test.

But then Scott McTominay curled one in against the Spanish and my attention was diverted. Then it was totally gone when the big man went and did it again.

My Estonian VIPs would have to wait. Just as well I wasn’t booking their travel for real.

Or that I wasn’t actually obliged to complete this task set by the Motorsport UK Co-Driver Academy. Celebrating Scotland’s 2-0 win over Spain wouldn’t have washed with Nicky Grist, Seb Marshall or Paul Spooner as an excuse for not handing in my homework.

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Luckily I was just a guest last week – invited by M-Sport (which this year has formally partnered with the Academy) to observe and immerse myself in what the UK’s governing body is doing to further and develop the careers of young co-drivers.

To say I’ve had worse Tuesdays and Wednesdays would be an understatement.

From afar, the Motorsport UK Co-Driver Academy has always impressed me. Motorport UK can often be the butt of the joke in British rally circles, but the work it’s doing here is seriously impressive and deserves to be lauded.

We all know that co-drivers are the unsung heroes of our discipline – the first to be dug out when a problem arises, but the last to be credited when the job goes to plan.

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So for them to be front and center of a bespoke program – specifically designed for them – is, frankly, huge. And the success speaks for itself:

  • Scott Martin – four-time World Rally winner with Elfyn Evans.
  • Aaron Johnston – two-time World Rally podium finisher with Takamoto Katsuta.
  • Elliott Edmondson – former Rally1 co-driver currently paired with Oliver Solberg.
  • Keaton Williams – 2022 American Rally Association champion with Brandon Semenuk.
  • Ross Whittock – 2019 European Rally champion with Chris Ingram.

All, and several more, trace their roots back to this program.

Paul Spooner, a veteran of over 430 rally starts, has been involved since the beginning. His pride, and precision, is immediately obvious.

“We don’t take complete novices,” he said. “What we want to do is help young talents, give them all the tools we can and make sure that if any opportunity arises, then they’re ready for it.”

Tuesday was the first time the class of 2023 had officially assembled. They’d all attended a launch event at Motorsport UK’s headquarters in Oxfordshire the month before, but 260-odd miles north and Dovenby Hall was the classroom as their program launched into first gear.

I was still a bit awestruck by my surroundings by the time I walked into the conference room. On my first ever visit to M-Sport, I’ll admit I was a touch blown away.

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But I had a job to do. Introductions done, I was soon sat at the bottom of the table and ready to go back to school again for the morning.

M-Sport media man Seb Scott’s idea for my visit was to thrust me right into the heart of what was going on. I was, in essence, a member of the Academy for two days – learning, and doing, exactly what they were.

So I was listening hard when the first guest speaker, Chris Roberts, entered the room.

In fairness, I would have done anyway as Chris – M-Sport’s current head of customer engineering and Elfyn Evans’s old event engineer – is a man well worth listening to. Particularly if you are a co-driver.


That might sound a bit strange – surely the best people to advise co-drivers are co-drivers? But, as Marshall shrewdly pointed out to the group, at world championship level the co-driver and the engineer need to forge a strong relationship to work in tandem and get the crew the best possible result.

Marshall, if you’ll excuse the incoming tangent, is a real coup for the program. Spooner has been in education for 40 years and what he doesn’t know about co-driving isn’t worth knowing, and Grist’s 21 WRC wins speak for themselves.

But Marshall has competed at the very top of rallying extremely recently. The only reason he isn’t still there right now is through choice. And I must say he’s a cracking special stage designer – but more on that later!

After absorbing plenty from Roberts, the baton was passed to Bridgette Guerin-Green who looks after M-Sport’s logistics. And let me tell you what she had to share certainly opened a few eyes – including mine.

Again, you could flippantly believe that this has no relevance to co-driving. Jonne Halttunen certainly isn’t in charge of booking the Toyota team’s hotels in the WRC. But until co-drivers land in a factory team, they’re nearly always the ones in charge of travel, logistics and movement schedules. Even in WRC2.

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It’s therefore a crucial skill to master – one that would be easy to overlook. It’s full credit to the Motorsport UK Co-Driver Academy that all of the aspects are covered, not just the core job of calling the notes inside the car.

After gaining a new (and massive) appreciation of how complicated it is to fly a WRC team around the world several times over, we were all provided a comprehensive tour of the factory where, again, I have to admit, I returned to being awestruck.

I’ve not been to too many WRC events in my career yet, but it was rather cool to see the Ford Puma Rally1s I’d seen in México back here in the factory undergoing their rebuild. All while chewing the fat with Marshall and Grist. How is this my life?

Soon it was time for lunch. Fueled up on sandwiches, quiche and traybakes, the group was split for some more practical tasks in the afternoon. Each member was taken out for some recce practice, while the rest of their time would be filled with a comprehensive task: arranging all of the travel and accommodation for M-Sport’s pre Portugal test.

I’m not sure my brain has ever hurt so much. I didn’t really get beyond looking at ferries for the two trucks before realizing this wasn’t really one for me. I attempted to finish it as homework, but admitted defeat as you’ve already learned!

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The real Academy members, though, were impressive. As M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener admitted in the feedback session, they’d “outsmarted us” with a strong six of them working together as a group.

Not quite in the spirit of the task, but really rather clever as far as I’m concerned.

Meanwhile, the rest were getting their teeth stuck into ‘Broughton Beck’. Not currently a rally stage, but my word it should be. Narrow, twisty and undulating with plenty to catch you out, Marshall did an impeccable job designing this route – and a legit map and road book to go with it!


He’d been “cruel” on purpose, putting in little tricks to test the co-drivers’ observation skills such as a deviation around a triangle appearing on a fresh page on the road book.

It caught out plenty, but as Grist put it: “It’s actually good that you’re making mistakes as then it’s a good discussion point.”

This was probably my favorite part of the two days. I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on during a rally recce having never been part of one before, so sitting in the back as Grist took young Dafydd Evans around was an amazing experience. Imagine how useful it was for Dafydd, who that very weekend was over in Ireland co-driving in an R5 car!

Hearing Grist call out the corners gave me serious nostalgic Colin McRae Rally vibes though, so that was special.

A team dinner later, we all reconvened for day two and this was a big one.

A major part of M-Sport’s partnership with the Academy is to offer at least three work experience opportunities on WRC events to the members. Each of them therefore prepared a presentation and would then pitch themselves to Millener, Grist, Marshall and Malcolm Wilson.

Except Malcolm was unfortunately busy, so who was drafted in instead? Me.

No pressure, eh.

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Suffice to say I was a major imposter. Here I was, sitting alongside rallying royalty, about to assess the credentials of some of the UK’s best up-and-coming co-drivers. I felt so out of place and unable to offer much – but thankfully my thoughts closely aligned with the other judges so I was definitely not relied upon!

It was very interesting to see all of the approaches to the pitches though. It would be incredibly unfair to name names, but there were some that completely blew us away and others that perhaps had a bit more polishing to do.

But, again, that’s the complete point of the Motorsport UK Co-Driver Academy. To learn, to develop and to create professional-standard co-drivers who are ready to make the jump onto bigger and better things.

Emily Easton-Page was chosen for the first of the three opportunities in Croatia – and she was fully deserving of it. Having met her late last year for the first time, I had a feeling she’d be somewhere near the front of the queue, but she was far from the only one who impressed.

Most of all, though, it was the Academy in general that impressed me.

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I went to university and got a degree, and naturally that helped teach me a lot about journalism. But I am also a graduate of a bespoke motorsport journalism academy – and it’s what I learned there that I truly believe gave me the most relevant experience and tips for the career I’m still trying to build.

Experiencing what will be just a small part of the Motorsport UK Co-Driver Academy for 2023, it’s completely obvious that this is their version of what I had.

With several upcoming sessions including in-car pacenote practice, fitness and media days, they’re all in for very real learning experiences – taught and arranged by some of the best in the business.

There’s not a whole load to feel massively encouraged by in British rallying at the moment, but nobody else in the world is giving their co-drivers any more than this right now.

But booking Tänak and Järveoja’s travel to Portugal later this month? Thankfully that had already been sorted by Bridgette…


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