Michael Park (co-driver)
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Michael Park (left) and Markko Märtin (right)
|Born||22 June 1966|
|Died||18 September 2005 (aged 39)|
Bryn, Neath Port Talbot, Wales
|World Rally Championship record|
|Active years||1999, 1999–2005|
|Teams||Lukoil EOS Rally Team, Subaru World Rally Team, Ford, Peugeot|
|First rally||1994 RAC Rally|
|Last rally||2005 Wales Rally GB|
One of the top co-drivers of his generation, Park died as a result of injuries sustained in an accident on the final leg of Wales Rally Great Britain when his Peugeot 307 WRC left the road and struck a tree. As co-driver to Markko Märtin, 'Beef', as he was affectionately known, enjoyed considerable success with the Estonian during three seasons at Ford before joining Peugeot for 2005.
A rally enthusiast since the age of ten, he gained experience with some of Britain's top talents. He worked with former world champions Richard Burns and Colin McRae as a gravel note expert while co-driving for both David Higgins and Mark Higgins in the British national series. His big break, however, came when he teamed up with the emerging Estonian talent Markko Märtin as a privateer pairing in a Toyota Corolla WRC for the 2000 World Rally Championship season.
After a string of impressive performances, the pair were signed up by Subaru for 2001, before moving to Ford, where they evolved into one of the leading driver/co-driver combinations in the WRC. In 2003, they took two rally victories, in Greece and Finland, and improved on that figure with three wins in 2004 (Mexico, Corsica and Catalunya).
Perhaps known best for his keen sense of humour and his distinctive St George's Cross helmet, 'Beef' Park became a fan favourite, especially in his native England and (nearly-adopted) Estonia. His driver Markko Märtin once joked that he gave him a "9/10" - lacking one point only because he didn't speak Estonian. After the crash, an emotional Markko said "Park wasn't my co-driver, I was his pilot."
The pair were lying fourth in the 2005 season's title race after securing four podiums in a season dominated by Citroën's Sébastien Loeb when the accident occurred. Their performances had been instrumental in Peugeot's challenge for the manufacturer's championship, with the team lying six points behind French rivals Citroën.
Park is survived by his wife Marie and children William and Victoria. His death, the first top-level rallying fatality since Rodger Freeth in the 1993 Rally Australia, brought renewed attention to safety issues in the motorsport world.
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