Motor Racing: How and Why - Co-drivers are indispensable in the RAC rally

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The Independent Online
INTRO

The four-day Network Q RAC Rally begins today in Birmingham with 178 enteries. The drivers will be at the wheel for four days and over 35 special stages, but beside them will be the co-drivers, who will not win the rally but may lose it. A driver may be seconds faster than his rivals, but if his navigator cannot find the start of the next special stage then his expertise will be wasted.

THE JOB

The co-driver will not win the RAC Rally but he can lose it. A driver may be seconds faster than his rivals in the Kielder Forest but if his navigator cannot find the start of the next special stage then his expertise will be wasted.

Help comes in the shape of roadbooks provided by the organisers which detail every turn and landmark on the 1,000-mile route and a tripometer will measure to 100ths of a mile. Even so it is rare navigaor who does suspect he is lost least once in the four days.

On the special stages the co-driver calls the course. L5lg>3 C to C+R2 looks like gobbledegook to the uninformed but to the man who sits alongisde Carlos Sainz and Juhan Kankkunen it translates into a tightening left-hand turn, two crests and a sharp right. Retribution comes quickly to the navigator who shouts right instead of left: an upside-down car in a ditch.

TIME There is no aid at all when it comes to time. A car is given x minutes to get to the start of special stage and if it books in outside the 60-second 'window' the penalties can be severe. For every minute late a second is added to the car's time; for every minute early then 60 seconds are piled on to your humilitaion.

'Service' is built into the times between special stages which leads to mental conflict and sometimes rows. The chief mechanic wants to tighten every nut, the co-driver would prefer not to stop at all. Compromise is usually reached before blows.

THE ENVIRONMENT

Safety is stressed in rallying, then underlined, then emphasised. The co-driver is coccooned in fire resistant skin of balaclava, shirt, socks, boots and overalls and then squeezed into the space not occupied by anti-roll bars and into a harness that all but emilinates body movement in the event of a crash. In front and behind are fire extinguishers. His blood group is painted on the side of the car and is also sewed onto his overalls.

EQUIPMENT

The tools for the job include a watch, tripometer, Ordnance Survey maps, stopwatch, roadbooks, torches, reams of paper and pencils. The helmet has headphones and microphones to allow communication with the driver which would be impossible on the special stages when engine noise hits decibels only 120mph can reach. Those with a queasy stomach have a ready supply of car-sickness pills.

(Graphic and map omitted)

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