Markko Märtin isn’t somebody who smiles a lot. I like that about him. I like Ott Tänak for a similar reason. The pair of them, like me, can be pretty miserable. Who says you need to smile? Small talk? It’s just that.
From the first time I worked with Märtin way back when Toyota Corollas and Grifone were still a thing, I liked him. He was, and is, the very antithesis to the overblown. From day one, Markko’s kept it real.
It was the same when he introduced me to Ott Tänak at Rally Finland in 2009. The then 21-year-old had done a bit and won a bit in his homeland. But in terms of the World Rally Championship, he was very much a rookie. He’d done Portugal in a MM Motorsport (Markko Märtin Motorsport – the forerunner to RedGrey) Group N Subaru and shown pretty well. But now the acid test: Jyväskylä.
Friday morning, Jukojärvi and Tänak is fastest of the conventional Group N cars and only five and a half seconds down on Juho Hänninen’s Škoda Fabia S2000.
I remember walking across the Paviljonki service park lunchtime on day one and bumping into Märtin, who had Tänak in tow. I was introduced and, from memory, Ott didn’t have a lot to offer to the conversation.
From that moment forwards, I’ve worked with the pair closely. It was me who had the misfortune to be the first to reach Markko at home in Europe when Ott endured what was then threatening to be a career-ending crash in New Zealand 2012.
“What the f*** has he done now?” was the sleepy response.
The flip side was being able to share in the sheer delight of lifting a world title and I was honored to be asked to help out in the making of a spectacular movie about Tänak.
A few years ago, the pair of them took me to see the new premises for RedGrey on the outskirts of Tallinn. Talk about swish. The building was fabulously cool yet typically understated from the outside and 100% functional and made for performance on the inside. RedGrey’s workshop very much reflected the two drivers behind it.
We talked about the future for the company and what was to come for both of them. Father and son? Probably more older and younger brother. They were connected; the reverence and appreciation Tänak had had for Märtin from the very beginning was a two-way street now.
As Tänak’s moves from M-Sport to Toyota to Hyundai demonstrated, the pair had become a powerhouse in the service park.
And throughout all of that, I watched as their friendship grew. Their united approach faced down more than a decade of French domination of our sport and they even started to smile.
This story’s not about why they’re no longer working together, that’s nobody’s business but their own.
It’s a simple reflection on the end of what I firmly believed would be an enduring partnership.
And it’s an end that makes me sad. When Steve Rimmer and Markko decided to join forces to sponsor Ott at the start of 2020, one of the things we talked most keenly about was a big DirtFish trip to Seattle in March of that year. There would be roadtrips, sightseeing, stories and tonnes of fun.
Then that thing happened.
And now this.
Next week we’ll go to Zagreb and Olympia for Olympus and we’ll be distracted by the day-to-day of the world’s best discipline of sport. Ott Tänak will, quite possibly, win Croatia and very few folk will give Markko Märtin a second thought.
I will. Markko was the architect who enabled Ott to build his own career.
Friendships, partnerships come and go. The world keeps on turning.
That doesn’t mean I can’t press pause and reflect for a moment. And in doing so, I can find little reason to turn a frown upside down.