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Chicherit-Baumel: Back to the Future

Guerlain Chicherit is such a fan of the television series The Fall Guy that the stuntman Colt Seavers inspires the livery of his Overdrive Racing Toyota pick-up that he will flip the script for round three in Portugal. Forget T.V.; let's go to the big screen with a remake of Back to the Future! In the absence of his regular co-driver Alex Winocq, who is still recovering from a nasty landing behind a dune on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Mathieu Baumel, who was released by Nasser Al Attiyah after the last Dakar, will be at his side. Together, Chicherit-Baumel made their rally-raid debut on the 2005 Dakar. In 2006, with the rally starting in Lisbon, the Frenchmen scored their first stage win and finished in the overall Top 10. In 2009, after four Dakars, the duo parted ways. It was 15 years ago. Guerlain won the World Rally-Raid title in the Transiberico season finale that year. Mathieu left to join Yazeed Al Rajhi before Carlos Sousa. It is a new start for both, with Portugal as a backdrop... which will soon be the scene of their reunion at the B.P. Ultimate Rally-Raid Portugal. Third in the general classification, just three points adrift of Nasser Al Attiyah (67 pts), Guerlain Chicherit (64 pts) heads to the next round with the car and co-driver that have been key to his closest rival's success.

What was the personal context of your partnership in 2004?

G.C.: "I won the Saxo T4 trophy in 2003. When you win it, you move on to the Junior World Championship for the season. Séb' (Loeb) did the same thing two or three years before me, but I wasn't quite as successful! At the end of 2003, I was on the verge of winning the trophy when Citroën brought in veteran co-driver Michel Perrin to prepare me for the following season. I finished the trophy with Michel, and we started the 2004 world championship, but after one or two rounds, Michel joined Bruno Saby in switching to rally-raid with Volkswagen. That's when I started looking for a co-driver. Citroën helped me put together a list. Mathieu was one of the first people I saw, and it clicked immediately. The human aspect was necessary, and I didn't question it. We did the entire season together, with highs and lows, excellent results and many damaged cars. My debut forged my reputation! Citroën didn't want to renew the contract at the end of the season because of the breakdowns. We were looking for a way back, and Mathieu told me about the Volant Dakar, a new feature of the 2005 edition. We won ten of the twelve events and won it."

M.B.: "In 2004, I competed in the French Championship with Emmanuel Guigou for Renault when Guerlain Chicherit called me to join him in the WRC Junior World Championship. At the time, I was a skiing fanatic; my other passion was rallying. I was a ski instructor, and Guerlain was a guy I would have dreamed of sharing a day on the slopes with. It was a great development for me. I was leaving France to compete in the world championship. Junior was the category just below the WRC, and I found myself next to the guy who used to make me dream on his skis. Everything was positive; it was great at the time. Guerlain was super quick, but we had several mechanical and other problems and weren't necessarily in the right place at season's end. Citroën told us at the end of the season that it was unlikely to continue. We were looking to turn things around, and that year, I came across a promotional package, the Volant Dakar, which gave you the chance to participate in the 2005 Dakar, all expenses paid, with a Bowler. We won and, in January, set off for our first Dakar rally as absolute rookies."

"The first memorable moment was finishing our first Dakar. We were two young guys battling with all the top drivers and co-drivers of the day - it was as if we'd won the Dakar for ourselves!"

What do you remember about your separation in 2009?

G.C.: "After our 2005 Dakar, Sven Quandt asked us to be among fifteen crews to do some tests. We were selected... we weren't the slowest! We finished the 2006 Dakar in 9th place, with many mechanical problems with the all-new X3. But we also won a stage and finished on the podium three or four times. In 2007, we arrived with many hours of testing and ambitions, and we were second or third overall in Morocco when we had a huge accident. We were going way too fast. 2009 was our last Dakar. Mathieu stood up to Sven several times, and at one point, Sven dismissed him. Mathieu didn't take it lying down. We didn't want to stop at all. I hadn't yet proved my worth; no one was seeking me out, so I just dealt with it. I wound up with Tina Thorner, with whom I won the World Cup that year."

M.B.: "There were a lot of little issues in the team; I didn't feel like I belonged there anymore; we weren't necessarily allowed to do what we wanted, and the decision to part ways didn't come down to him or me. It wasn't easy because Guerlain is a great friend of mine, he was my best man at my wedding. At the same time, I was starting to race in rallies with Yazeed Al Rajhi. It was a new step for me to navigate with notes in English, in other countries and other events. I immediately switched to something else. That's where I took Yazeed to his first rally-raid. The first edition of the Hail Rally was in his home country of Saudi Arabia. I knew the discipline, and he knew how to drive on this terrain, so we went there and won."

What are your most vivid memories of your years together?

G.C.: "Our first Dakar with the special stage where everyone ran out of petrol 30 kilometres from the finish. We all slept in the desert. It's a pretty amazing souvenir because we drove at night, there were trucks everywhere, overturned vehicles, a real mess! After that, we spent two days towed by lorry because we'd missed the refuelling, a terrible memory. Second was our first Dakar stage win because it was important. And third, is the accident that had a big impact on us. It took me a long time to return to the same speed. I don't think I've ever driven at the same speed since."

M.B.: "The first memorable moment was finishing our first Dakar. We did some very nice special stages with our prototype, which wasn't at all up to the standard of the Mitsubishi that was winning everything at the time; we slept one night in the desert, we spent two days towed by a rope, but we arrived at Lac Rose after all those problems saying to ourselves that we manifestly had to do the next edition. That was the start of a wonderful story. We managed to be in a BMW, a top car, the following year and won our first stage in our second Dakar. We were two young guys battling with all the top drivers and co-drivers of the day. It was as if we'd won the Dakar for ourselves!" We'd come from nowhere, we did not know the desert or mechanics, we were absolute rookies, and we were lucky they trusted us."

"Let me be clear: this will only be a one-off with Mathieu. In other circumstances, I wouldn't have asked myself the question and would have jumped at the chance to have him back, but I'm thrilled with Alex, who is also an extraordinary co-driver."

Did you believe in each other's careers from the start?

G.C.: "I've always considered Mathieu to be enormously talented. It's frustrating that we weren't able to make a career together. For Mathieu, it was a blessing in disguise because our split allowed him to bounce back and find a driver with a big racing programme that enabled him to progress. With Nasser, they got to know each other and struck the balance that made them an unbeatable team. It may not be said often enough, but a good proportion of Nasser's victories are also due to Mathieu. They have contributed to each other's successes. They've surely found each other."

M.B.: "I admired his skiing career. Guerlain would jump ten metres off a cliff to land on his skies, and everything was under control. When guys who perform well in dangerous sports move on to motorsport, as we've seen with other champions like Luc Alphand, they quickly adapt because they already understand the concepts of risk, speed and commitment. Everything pointed to his ability to succeed. I wouldn't have said yes in 2004 if I didn't think he could achieve results. I believed in him in rallying as well as in rally-raid. In retrospect, finishing his first rally raid with some nice performances, getting noticed and becoming a factory driver was fantastic for the time. There weren't any youngsters coming into rally-raid in 2005. Twenty years on, things have changed, but back then, it didn't exist."

How do you see the other's career unfolding?

G.C.: "Let me be clear: this will only be a one-off with Mathieu. In other circumstances, I wouldn't have asked myself the question and would have jumped at the chance to get him back. Still, I'm thrilled with Alex, another extraordinary co-driver who people don't know because he doesn't yet have Mathieu's track record. Alex is among the three best co-drivers in the field, and I'm lucky to have him. Unfortunately, he's injured at the moment, and it's a great opportunity to race with Mathieu again. But we won't have a career together, that's for sure, unless... you never know what can happen. But Alex will be back in the car very soon. For Mathieu, it's complicated because he is currently the best co-driver; he can only co-drive with one of the four or five best drivers who all have stable teammates. He can rebuild something with a driver who comes from another discipline, or with Mattias Ekström, who has impressive potential, or with one of the young drivers who are coming through; these are the only possibilities I can see."

M.B.: "Guerlain is more experienced and less fiery than 20 years ago. We know that the more experience and kilometres you have attained in rally raid, the better the result. He has proved that he can win special stages and races in the world championship, and he has built a superb team that allows him to drive a highly competitive car. He has everything he needs to succeed, and I wish him every success." 

And what about you, Mathieu? What do you see as the next phase of your career?

M.B.: " I didn't expect how it came to a halt after the Dakar, just as the season was getting underway and without any real explanation. It wasn't good timing. All the teams have their vehicles and crews entered, so it's not a time when you can switch. I have two options: to stay at the same level among the top five, which means to join an existing team where all the places are taken or contribute my experience to a driver who is right behind and who could benefit from that little bit extra to climb the ranks and get on the podium. Today, I have no guarantees, but it's happening; it will happen by the end of the year; it can't happen any other way."  

Guerlain Chicherit (45, 3rd in the provisional 2024 W2RC Drivers' classification)

• 2000-02-06-07: Ski Freeride World Champion
• 2001: first participation in the French Rally Championship
• 2003: winner of the Saxo T4 trophy
• 2004: Junior World Rally Championship, winner of the Volant Dakar
• 2005: 49th on the Dakar
• 2006-2009: official BMW X-raid
• 2006: 9th on the Dakar, first stage victory
• 2007: accident and DNF on the Dakar
• 2009: 9th on the Dakar, winner of the FIA World Rally-Raid Cup
• 2016 - 2022: break from rally-raid
• 13 Dakar participation since 2014 with Alex Winocq, best result in 2024 with 4th place
• 9th in the 2023 W2RC drivers’ classification
• 3rd in the 2024 W2RC provisional drivers’ classification


Mathieu Baumel (48 years old, two-time reigning world co-drivers’ champion)
• 1997: first participation in the French Rally Championship
• 2002: winner of the Volant Peugeot 206 with Bryan Bouffier
• 2003-04: competing in the French Rally Championship
• 2004: Junior World Rally Championship, winner of the Volant Dakar
• 2005: 49th on the Dakar
• 2006-2009: official BMW X-raid
• 2006: 9th on the Dakar, first stage victory
• 2007: accident and DNF on the Dakar
• 2009: 9th on the Dakar • 2010: co-driver of Carlos Sousa
• 2011: co-driver of Bernhard ten Brinke
• 2012-2023: co-driver of Nasser Al Attiyah
• 2015-19-22-23: four-time Dakar winner
• 2015-23: eight-time Middle East Rally Champion
• 2015-16-17-22: four-time winner of the FIA World Rally-Raid Cup
• 2022-23: two-time W2RC World Champion