Just like riding a bike?

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 28 Apr 2018

Is co-driving like riding a bike? Once you have done it, is it built into your brain function and, no matter how many years between reading pace notes, does the ability to direct a rally driver come flooding back?

These were the questions I asked myself while adjusting the shoulder straps of my five-point harness before the first stage of the Otago Rally.

The chance to find out came about through Dunedin's Graham Roper.

He had recently started a health and safety company and upon learning that co-drivers in a zero car, the vehicles that run through the route at about 90% of pace before the competitors to ensure the roads are clear, did not require competition licenses any more decided to offer the opportunity to the media.

After a brief but thoroughly enjoyable period of co-driving more than a decade ago, I was quick to put my hand up.

My five stages in a Datsun Sunny were a wonderful reminder that there is so much more to rallying than just stage times, winners and the tough-luck stories that usually make up my event experience now that I spend most of my time writing motorsport stories rather living them.

There is the early morning awakening of a cold rally car firing into life in the dark and peering through fogged-up windows while touring to the start.

There's the cheery volunteers out on the first stage, just a small proportion of the myriad people who make the Otago Rally run smoothly behind the scenes. A bit of banter and a lot of waiting around to get going.

Inevitably, I was nervous before the start and then relief to be away and into the Whare Flat forest. Nothing can replicate the sensations of rallying _ what it's like to feel the gravel battering the car; to hear the engine roaring and see the scenery flashing past at speeds you don't usually negotiate shingle roads at.

We were operating on what is known as "blind'' pace notes, meaning they only detail intersections and cautions _ unlike full pace notes that describe every stage in minute detail, so sometimes I had several silent kilometres. It meant I could absorb the quality of the roads and appreciate why so many drivers rave about them. I could look around at the views as we scurried over ridges and notice the small things.

Being in a rally car with someone can fast-track a rapport. You are a team. You are fully in the moment for the entirety of the stage and the outside world recedes. You learn about what makes your driver tick and why they love the sport.

It's not always about the glory of fastest stage times, winning a class or achieving a goal of finishing an event. It's a reward. It's life-affirming.

And yes, it is like riding a bike: once you've done it, you will never forget how much fun it is.

Catherine Pattison