Inside Revolution: My Motorsport Moment – Nicky Grist

Tuesday 09 July 2024

Nicky Grist is a multiple world champion Rally co-driver who has partnered with some of the best drivers in motorsport and spent a decade winning at the top level. Born in Ebbw Vale, Wales, he began competing in the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 1990 and spent two years alongside Malcolm Wilson, with a one-off event alongside Mikael Ericsson in 1992, before teaming up with Armin Schwarz at Mitsubishi in 1993. A mid-season switch to join Juha Kankkunen at Toyota that year led to his first WRC victory and began a partnership that continued for four seasons. In 1997, he transferred to the 555 Subaru World Rally Team and joined up with Colin McRae, with the pair moving together to the M-sport Ford team in 1999, re-uniting Grist with his former driver Wilson, who was now in charge of the team. The successful duo’s partnership ended at the Rally New Zealand in 2002, after a total of 17 wins, 27 podiums and 183 WRC points. Grist now runs his own motorsports business, which sponsors the Nicky Grist Stages event in July, and participates in Motorsport UK’s Academy co-driver programme, helping to train the next generation of WRC stars.

Event: Network Q Rally
Date: November, 1993
Car: Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD (ST185)

Winning my home round of the World Championship was a tremendous honour, and it came just three years after my first British Championship rally. I had started off with Malcolm Wilson in 1990 in a Sierra Sapphire Cosworth, we did six World Championship events the following year and I also did testing and development work for Toyota on the Safari Rally.

I was competing for Mitsubishi alongside Armin Schwarz in 1993 when, In the middle of the season, I was approached by three-time world champion Juha Kankkunen to co-drive for him. He was with Toyota Team Europe and his usual co-driver, Juha Piironen, had suffered a brain haemorrhage in his hotel room during the reconnaissance of Rally Argentina.

When it all happened, it was obviously a bit of a shock, but I was not competing full-time in the championship at that time, so Toyota was able to get permission for me to leave Mitsubishi for two events, and I flew out to Argentina. It was all a little bit last minute, but we managed to recce the stages twice and pulled off my first World Championship victory.

I went to New Zealand with Juha, but then went back to re-join Armin in the Mitsubishi for the 1000 Lakes, where Juha won with another co-driver. After that, my contract was bought out [by Toyota] so I re-joined Juha and won Rally Australia and, after a few other solid results, Juha was crowned World Champion at the Catalunya Rally in Spain.

After that came the Network Q Rally, Britain’s round of the World Championship. We did our reconnaissance of the Stages for two days then went back to the start. Having won my first few World Championship rallies and, with number one now on the door, we turned up to a lot of hype! All the stars aligned, and it was a hell of a buzz.

At the time, the Network Q Rally was hugely popular. It was actually the biggest spectator sport in the UK – purely because it lasted for five days, went all over the country, and everybody wanted to have a bit of it. But that year, the conditions were the most treacherous we had ever had, and it was really tough.

Some of the stages were relatively mild, but there was always ice and snow somewhere. Through Wales, there was very little snow, just a thin covering, but the ground was frozen. It was exceptionally cold. Then we started going up north and when we got to Kielder, it was deep in snow, and through Yorkshire, exactly the same thing.

We had to use a gravel tyre, we could not use a spiked tyre like we could in Sweden, so that made the conditions really tough going. The driver just had to use his ability to cope with it – but, luckily, I was with Juha! One of the classic flying fins, he was brought up on ice and snow roads and he just soaked it all up.

How he managed to create the speed at times, it was just amazing. One of my friends went to spectate on a stage in Wales and could not even walk up the road, it was so slippery. He said he watched the course cars go around really slowly… then the whistles started to blow and all of a sudden, we just came into view, going at one hell of a rate of knots!

We had a hell of a battle with Colin (McRae) on the second day. He took the lead from us, but then went off in one of the Kielder stages and handed it back, and we just controlled it
to the finish. We had a bit of a scary ‘off’ at one point, sliding wide on some ice and hitting a gate post, but fortunately we got away with it, and got back to Birmingham to take
the victory.

You could not get any higher than that at that point. It was like a British racing driver winning the British Grand Prix. There is nothing prouder than that. There were so many people there in the centre of Birmingham and my family, friends, the whole team behind the car, it was the icing on the cake of a mind-blowing season – and after that moment, Juha and I stayed together for another very enjoyable four years.