Rally purists consider this category to be the latest pure form of motor racing for one simple reason: it is the only style of motorsport today that sees cars go from point A to point B on public roads. , just like the rest of us, only the roads are closed and the cars go much faster.
âI took part in many road races (on the circuit), but for me, it’s boring, explains Antoine L’Estage. âHe does the same 10 turns 10,000 times. Instead, in rallying you will do 10,000 turns once. It’s totally different.
âIt’s an extreme sport. When you drive at 200 kilometers an hour on a dirt road between the trees and on the ridges, it is quite intense.
âThe feeling when everything clicks, and you push in the car, and you can feel that the conditions are good and that the chemistry with the co-driver is perfect is hard to describe. It’s a very special feeling.
In the early days of the sport, rallies weren’t primarily about speed. The instructions were rudimentary and not provided in advance, so the navigator’s skill was much appreciated with the driver playing a more functional role. Success was measured by the ability to match a predetermined average speed rather than being the fastest across the line. Competitions like this still exist in a way today, most notably in the form of classes in rallies like Targa Newfoundland.
However, as automotive technology advanced and four-wheel drive sedans became more common, the sport moved away from blind rallying and performance rallying began to take shape. Events began to introduce what are now called reconnaissance days, which allow drivers to take one or more practice days the day before the race – with the roads still open and under legal speed limits – to dictate what that they see their co-pilots in excruciating detail. During the rallies, the co-drivers then read these notes to the drivers, giving them an idea of ââwhat to expect on the road.
“I still think the co-driver almost provides a sixth sense in the car,” said John Hall, president of the Canadian Rally Association and professional co-driver. âWhen (the driver) goes down the road, if there is a ridge he cannot see, the co-pilot has already told him that there is a sharp right turn on the other side of that ridge. So this mental image is already being built in his mind in advance.
“That’s what the co-pilot does, and it becomes an integral part of (the driver’s) ability to go fast.”
The days of recognition began to appear in the Canadian Rally Championship about 10 years ago. Although their arrival coincided with a marked increase in speed, it also heralded greater attention to safety in the form of mandatory roll cages, helmets and head and neck restraints, multi-point harnesses, flame retardant racing suits, etc.
Current L’Estage co-driver Alan Ockwell celebrates the progress made by the sport of rallying in Canada.
âNo one could ever look back,â Ockwell said. “If I tried to do another blind rally today, I would probably be pretty terrified all the time.”