From The Right Seat: Why Co-Drive?

Posted on 03. Feb, 2008 by in Features, From The Right Seat


by Alan Ockwell

If someone randomly stopped you on the street and asked you if you wanted to ride in a car with a madman, bombing down forest roads at ridiculous speeds, while reading some form of hieroglyphics at a machine gun pace, how would you respond?

Yeah, the basic idea seems like something that would get you institutionalized.

Co-drivers risk their lives, and for what?  You’ll never be a millionaire, get recognized on the street, have girls swoon at the mention of your name, appear on the Tonight Show, or avoid lines at trendy restaurants.  Instead, you’ll get to enjoy bad food, nasty weather, problems that require immediate solutions, being stranded in remote areas, long days and short nights.

Clearly rally co-driving is not for those who seek fame and fortune.  So why would anyone ever want to do it?

Because there is nothing else like it on Earth.  Bumps, jumps, blind corners, trees, spectators, camera flashes - it’s better than any roller coaster ride.


It’s an emotional roller coaster ride, too.  Win – whether it’s a stage, your class, the rally or an entire championship – and you’re on top of the world, even if there isn’t a cheque at the end.  But failing to finish can be heartbreaking.  Your whole team has put forth an enormous effort and you have nothing to show for it.

It’s the ultimate in teamwork.  You and your driver are placing your lives in each other’s hands.  You’re trusting the driver to keep the car between the trees, and the driver is trusting you to deliver the notes properly so that he knows what lies ahead.  It’s total faith and absolute commitment.

And there’s no better feeling than the short section between the flying finish and the control.  The car was strong, the notes worked, the driver left nothing on the table – you know you’ve set a great stage time and left your competition eating your dust.  You’ve just experienced something that very few people will ever have the opportunity to do.

Sounds like fun.  So what’s the first step?

First, let’s consider what qualities make a good co-driver.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an Olympic athlete.  While it helps to be in decent shape, the only physical requirement is that you have to be able to read in a car without getting queasy. There are medications that can help you deal with motion sickness, but they tend to have some side effects.

It helps if you’re an organized person, and being able to process information quickly is vital if you want to run at the front, but these are skills that can be learned through discipline, experience and conditioning.


Okay, you still want to rally.  Let’s get started.

It can be difficult to get your foot in the door.  Just like in real business (the kind where you get paid), it’s all about who you know.  But let’s assume that you’re a relative newbie to the sport and your contact list isn’t very long.  You’ve seen rally on TV, played the video games, and maybe attended a live event once or twice.  Now you want to make the leap into co-driving.

It’s not easy to convince a rally driver to take on a total rookie with no track record, and it's expensive to buy all of the stage rally equipment at once, so let’s start making contacts and building a co-driving CV without spending a ton of money.  There are a few roles in the rally world that will help you get your name out there.

A good first step is to start out in navigational rallies.  Stage rallying requires a different skill set, but many of the basic timing and navigation principles apply. The instructions get very tricky very quickly, so if you collect some good results in navigational events, you’ll have a solid foundation for your co-driving resumé.

Another good reason to run navigational rallies is that the barriers to entry are low.  Very little equipment is required and it’s cheap to do.  All you need is a friend or family member who is willing to go on a pleasant Saturday drive through the countryside.

Plus, you’ll meet a bunch of people who are also active in the stage rally scene and can help you land your first ride.

In between navigational events, you will do yourself (and the sport) a favour by marshalling at stage rallies.  The ideal jobs for aspiring co-drivers involve timing and scoring.  You can help the official event scorers, or even better, you can work a start/finish control.  This will help you understand how time controls operate, which is a critical component of co-driving.

You will get to witness first-hand all the tricks the top co-drivers will try to pull to get themselves any possible advantage – dust windows, dodging time penalties, and so forth.  You’ll also get to see how things work from the marshal’s point of view, which will help you appreciate the enormous effort put in by all the volunteers.

I suggest spending a year running navigational rallies and marshalling before you get into the silly seat of a stage car.  However, even after you begin co-driving, it never hurts to continue to do the occasional navigational event and volunteering to help when available.

I strongly recommend a stage rally co-driving course as a third component of learning the basics.  Bug your local club or sanctioning body to put one on if a course isn’t already scheduled.  A number of top co-drivers already have presentations and courses ready to go.

A good course will teach you all the fundamentals of co-driving that aren’t always obvious at first glance, like timing calculations and how to read tulips. In-depth courses will also cover the basic principles of reading stage notes.  Another nice benefit is that an approved course will allow you to upgrade from a regional to national rally licence in a shorter time.

Now that you’ve built up a nice resumé of navigational rallies, completed a co-driving school and worked a few events as a volunteer, it’s time to jump head-first into stage rallying.  We’ll cover the next steps in our next article – how to get your competition license and what equipment you’ll need.

[Alan is quickly making a name for himself as the "go-to" man for the top teams in North America.  He'll be writing for FOC throughout the season, giving readers a first-hand perspective on co-driving.  Alan takes another step up the ladder by sitting shotgun for Pat Richard at Perce Neige next weekend.]


5 Responses to “From The Right Seat: Why Co-Drive?”

  1. Crazy Leo

    04. Feb, 2008

    Alan, great read!
    I especially love the first two sentenses:
    “If someone randomly stopped you on the street and asked you if you wanted to ride in a car with a madman, bombing down forest roads at ridiculous speeds, while reading some form of hieroglyphics at a machine gun pace, how would you respond?
    Yeah, the basic idea seems like something that would get you institutionalized.”
    BRAVO 🙂

  2. Kim DeMotte

    04. Feb, 2008

    Terrific writing! Now I know why I do this!! I really had no idea why I put myself in these situations especially while all my friends are taking to boating and golf!
    I can’t add enough the importance of Navigational or T.S.D. rallies under one’s belt. Way too many new co-drivers have no clue about the relationship among Time, Speed, and Distance, how to figure out how much time is left when changing a tire, how fast they need to go to avoid road points, etc., etc., etc. T.S.D. experience just makes most of that “automatic.”

  3. shawne

    09. Feb, 2008

    Great article Alan!
    and Thanks to FOC for adding more content like this!

  4. GDorman

    11. Feb, 2008

    so who has those courses ready?

  5. Ben Koflach

    05. Jun, 2008

    Hi Alan,
    I’ve been offered an opportunity to co-drive next year in some small stage rallies, but i have no real experience and not very much money at all to speak of. What would you recommend as the essentials to try and get myself prepared for a trial run?

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