MUCH HARDER THAN IT LOOKS

Co-driv­ing on a sin­gle venue is rather com­pli­cated. By Jack Benyon

Motor Sport News - - Competing At Anglesey -

“It’s just book read­ing while si­mul­ta­ne­ously hitch­ing a lift,” was the de­scrip­tion from one per­son, who will re­main anony­mous for their own safety. In March, I em­barked upon my first rally as a co-driver. Scratch that, my first rally. The Lee Hol­land Memo­rial Rally at An­gle­sey Cir­cuit.

It seemed easy on the face of things. On a sin­gle-venue cir­cuit rally, the track is laid out in loops, which re­quires splits to ac­cess the next loop ( see side­bar). So the most im­por­tant job for the nav­i­ga­tor is to re­mem­ber which way to turn at said splits and di­rect the driver around the track. It’s not like a stage rally with a recce and 20 pages of notes. Just split and cor­ner guid­ance. That seems easy, yes? It turns out, ab­so­lutely not. First off, all you’re given is a map of the track. No pacenotes, no re­con­nais­sance run. You can walk the track the day be­fore the rally, but that’s it. And re­mem­ber, the rally doesn’t just fol­low the cir­cuit. It uses ac­cess roads and re­verse loops, so there’s very lit­tle prior re­search that can help you pre­pare.

MSA Academy co-driver Phil Hall ex­plains: “Be­cause you aren’t us­ing pacenotes – you’re just us­ing maps – it gives you a re­ally good op­por­tu­nity to de­velop com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween a driver and co-driver. You’re hav­ing to de­scribe a stage from a map you haven’t seen on a stage you prob­a­bly haven’t seen be­fore, so it’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the route. You have to run with it and it re­ally helps you de­velop your abil­ity to de­scribe things on the fly.”

To make things that lit­tle bit harder, I hadn’t cho­sen a one-litre Nis­san Mi­cra for my de­but. It was a 2.5-litre lightweight rocket ship; to give it its proper name, the Dar­rian T90+. It reg­u­larly beats World Rally cars like the Ford Fo­cus WRC in the Motorsport News Cir­cuit Rally Cham­pi­onship.

Luck­ily, ca­pa­ble hands were be­hind the wheel. Ex­pe­ri­enced Dar­rian cam­paigner Ash­ley Field was there to put the car in the right place at the right time. He’d com­peted in the Peu­geot 205 Cup that shot Richard Burns to glory and pro­duced some of the best young rally driv­ers of the 1990s. Field won events and has done since, a very handy driver lead­ing the points ahead of An­gle­sey.

How­ever, luck had con­spired against Field and he hadn’t yet won a round of the series over­all. One of the fail­ures was due to a co-driver send­ing him the wrong way at a split. Which did noth­ing to calm my nerves…

The Dar­rian ac­cel­er­ates as quickly as an F3 car ac­cord­ing to one per­son in­volved with the Medi Cell Rally Team, but it feels quicker than the Saturn 5 rocket. It was so quick in fact that the pages of notes on my clip­board flew up un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion from the start, but luck­ily they stayed at­tached as the rear-wheel-drive car shot up the An­gle­sey pit­lane.

Be­fore the event, cer­tain driv­ers and co-driv­ers (who will also re­main name­less) took bets on when I’d be sick. I’ve sat in a Group B Ford RS200, Metro 6R4s and a Ford Fi­esta WRC so I was con­fi­dent in be­ing OK. But af­ter the first stage I un­der­stood why Chris In­gram (Opel works driver) and Michael Gil­bey (M-sport me­chanic and co-driver) had taken bets. Sorry lads.

Look­ing down at the di­a­gram and back up at the cir­cuit was nau­se­at­ing and an­other hin­drance to block con­cen­tra­tion. Luck­ily I wasn’t ill, so hap­pily their cruel bet failed.

The main is­sue in read­ing the map came with the fact that it was just a di­a­gram and there­fore wasn’t fol­low­ing the di­rec­tion of travel. It’s just a draw­ing on a page, and it was rather too easy to lose your place when glanc­ing up.

In essence, a lot of the tasks as a co-driver are sim­ple. In the same way that a long-jumper’s in­di­vid­ual steps are easy. Run-jump-ex­tend-land. Easy right? Not when you’re do­ing it all at once. That’s where the trick­i­ness lies.

As well as the notes there’s the ob­vi­ous stop­watch and record­ing times, but the time­cards can also throw up a curve ball. Es­pe­cially when they fall off your clip­board and go un­der the seat. That was in­ter­est­ing. The mar­shal who saw a 6ft 2 inches broad­shoul­dered lump run­ning to­wards them in­stead of a car – which is the usual ap­proach to a time con­trol – must have been amused. Hope­fully that gave some­thing back to them for their valu­able vol­un­tary ser­vice.

The time card en­sures that you reach the stages on time and is filled in by both the co-driver and the mar­shals. One item on the card that was con­fus­ing was the end time, to the con­trol af­ter the stage had ended. The reg­u­la­tions pro­vide three min­utes of road sec­tion, but that ob­vi­ously isn’t needed in the 200 yards be­tween stageend and con­trol. There­fore the time given at the end of the stage must have the three min­utes added to your stage fin­ish time to hand to the mar­shal at the con­trol. Easy enough, but when the adren­a­line is pump­ing af­ter a five and a half minute stage in a car like the Dar­rian, for­get­ting some­thing as sim­ple as that is eas­ily done, es­pe­cially when there’s a small cal­cu­la­tion in drop­ping sec­onds from the time.

So all in all, it was a suc­cess­ful de­but. The Techron- and Goodridge­backed T90 didn’t skip a beat all day and any rain that could have taken away the mid-en­gined car’s ad­van­tage stayed away.

I didn’t par­tic­u­larly en­joy the day: the pres­sure to make sure the car was where it was sup­posed to be was crip­pling.

But the feel­ing as the re­sults went fi­nal and Ir­ish rally leg­end Dessie Mccart­ney ap­plauded us re­ceiv­ing tro­phies, that’s the mo­ment that makes it all worth­while.

Co-driv­ers, I salute you for your tough job. I can only imag­ine that the stakes and abil­ity needed is mul­ti­plied for stage ral­lies and that’s a job I won’t be ac­cept­ing any­time soon. ■

Field/benyon took over­all event win Our man strug­gled to cope with so many tasks

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