Nicky Grist occupies a very special place within British motorsport, not least as he's the UK's most successful co-driver. Grist's career saw him fight at the very top of the rallying world (and in one of the sport's most competitive eras), his dulcet tones provided the background to a generation of video game fans, and he's since become a household name, a much loved and revered part of the British motorsport landscape. The Welshman is also the latest WRC star to be added to the Rallyday 2018 roster.
Grist's professional career began in the early '80s, the Ebbw Vale native swiftly acquiring a reputation for being both inscrutable under pressure and able to devise concise, consistently accurate pacenotes - both essential qualities in any co-driver! Spells in the British National and Open Championships duly followed, with an especially successful period sat next to the late, great Dave Metcalfe, perhaps the finest Vauxhall Nova driver the world has ever known.
Grist got his first taste of World Rally Championship level rallying in 1990 courtesy of Malcolm Wilson. Grist sat alongside the Englishman in Ford's then new Sierra Sapphire Cosworth 4×4, dovetailing a British Open programme with WRC excursions throughout 1990 and 1991. The following year saw him contest the legendary Safari Rally for the first time, this time with Mikael Ericsson.
A works contract with Toyota for 1993 enabled Grist to secure his first full time WRC drive, partnering first with Armin Schwarz and then Juha Kankkunen, winning his first WRC event with the latter that same year, Argentina. The Finn and the Welshman remained a force to be reckoned with for the next two years, Grist even competing with the Kankkunen throughout 1996, the year in which Toyota was banned from the WRC in the wake of TTE's 'turbo-gate' fiasco.'
1997 saw Grist form the partnership that would come to define his career, joining Subaru alongside Colin McRae. The pair gelled immediately, both with each other and Subaru's very first World Rally Car, the Impreza. While undoubtedly fast and technically polished (McRae & Grist took 8 wins in 1997 and 1998), the Impreza also proved to be maddeningly unreliable at times, engine failures effectively preventing the pair from fighting Tommi Makinen for the drivers' crown. It was too much for the pair to bear, and they could be found in Ford overalls the following season.
The decision to decamp to Ford, effectively a coming home for both Grist and McRae, was partly driven by a desire to help develop the marque's all new rally car, the Focus WRC. It would again be something of a mixed bag, the Focus demonstrating both its innate strength (it was tough enough to win the Safari Rally at its first attempt) and mechanical frailty, Grist and McRae retiring from a whopping 10 rallies over the course of the car's debut 1999 season. Things improved as the Focus was developed however, to the point where Grist & McRae were once again able to contest the drivers' title, coming up short (but only just) in 2001.
A much publicized fall out and subsequent 'break-up' with McRae occurred after their retirement from Rally New Zealand in 2002, and while there was initially tension between the pair this was soon resolved. Grist and McRae would go onto compete together on an occasional basis until the Scot's tragic death in 2007, with a brace of outings for Skoda in its Fabia WRC in 2005 the most fruitful.
'Gristy' has barely let off the gas since retiring from full time WRC competition, having instead opted to form and develop his own motorsport business, Nicky Grist Motorsports. He can also be found sitting alongside various British drivers on an ad-hoc basis, and has even created his own co-drivers academy, a way of helping up-and-coming navigators in their formative careers.
Nicky Grist's attendance at Rallyday this year is brilliant news for anyone with an interest in rallying, particularly those that followed the sport in the nineties and early noughties. He'll be on hand to talk us through this significant era as well, as shedding some light on his close friendship with the Colin McRae, Britain's first WRC Champion and an undisputed rallying great.
If you've not yet got your ticket for Rallyday, click here for advance tickets priced at £18 per adult (£25 on the gate). Under-17s, accompanied by an adult, get in for free.