Often, as a journalist, I’ll ask competitors what their plan of attack is for the next loop, rally or even the following season. More often than not, a fairly straightforward answer will follow.
But Emily Easton-Page doesn’t have one. She doesn’t know what’s next. She doesn’t know how far she’ll go. And that’s probably why she’ll go very far indeed.
“Never say never, you just don’t know, and I don’t think it’s healthy to set yourself a ceiling,” she tells DirtFish. “You just never know.
“I think a lot of people only look so far and then they stop. I always want to look a bit more. OK, I’ve got this, but what about that? Can I get that?”
Easton-Page reached out to me a week before our interview, asking if I’d be happy to speak to her as she prepares for her final John Easson Award interview this week.
I couldn’t promise I’d be able to publish anything, but was more than willing to help her if I could.
And that’s why, last Wednesday, I found myself in a cafe tucked in the corner of Cockburn Street, sprouting off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, listening to her story. A story I think is important to share with you as Easton-Page’s ambition and tenacity to succeed marks her out as someone you’ll probably be far more familiar with in the future.
At 22 years old, her rallying career is yet to fully blossom. But growing up with a grandfather and father who both competed, Easton-Page feels she was destined to rally; her first taste of competition coming at just 14.
“The day after my 14th birthday – committed,” she laughs
“I literally woke up on the day of my birthday, my dad just handed me a helmet and said ‘you’ll be needing that.’ I looked at him in confusion and he said ‘for tomorrow’.”
After that run around Crail on the east coast of Scotland, Easton-Page would have to wait two years for her next outing. But she wasn’t messing about.
“Fast forward a couple of years, it got to my 16th birthday in June, and my dad just handed me this letter and it said ‘five steps to get Ems to compete in Mull 2016,” she remembers.
“And I sort of looked at it and he was like ‘yep, you’re doing Mull’.”
The first step was a shrewd one – marshalling on the Grampian Rally to learn about the timing clocks from an organisers’ perspective, before she was then off to the Isle of Man to do gravel notes for renowned UK Tarmac driver Daniel Harper.
“I sat in the car with Dan Barritt and John Cressey,” Easton-Page says. The same Dan Barritt who was competing alongside Takamoto Katsuta in the World Rally Championship and about to rekindle his partnership with Elfyn Evans the following year.
“That’s where I learnt to read pacenotes – with Dan Barritt sat beside me in this old battered car that was barely drivable.”
Easton-Page has only ever started 30 rallies, but you wouldn’t know it. She’s got a real understanding of the demands placed on a co-driver, and a really pragmatic approach to furthering her career.
And all of that, bar the initial set up with Barritt in 2016, has been done off her own back.
“I’m very much a self critical person so I’ll go away after the rally at a weekend and think ‘OK what went well, what maybe didn’t go so well?'” Easton-Page says.
I sent Nicky Grist an email and was like 'hello, I'm looking to try and progress, can you watch my in-car footage and let me know what you think?'Emily Eason-Page on her co-driving journey
“Watching your in-car footage is a big help. I’ll just sit and I watch it and think ‘that bit good, that bit not so good, how can we work on it?’
“The primary thing you want to do is call pacenotes on time, that’s your basic standard. Then once you’ve got that sort of sussed you work on delivery, so tone, pitch, how you’re saying them, what you’re saying and how your driver responds. So that’s what I worked on last year a bit more.
“I sent Nicky Grist an email and was like ‘hello, I’m looking to try and progress, can you watch my in-car footage and let me know what you think?’ So we had a chat, he called me up, and we went through it.
“It was from the Argyll with Johnnie Mackay in 2021 and he said ‘yep timing’s good but we need to work on your delivery now.’ So he gave me some pointers as to what I could do and one of the things he was saying was just try and calm your tone down, so only emphasize things that need emphasizing – so if there’s particular bad bits or bad corners, just watch for them. So that’s what I tried to do.”
It’s clear to see why Easton-Page feels ambition is what sets her apart from some others. A 21-time WRC rally winner doesn’t just get in touch with you, you have to be proactive enough to glean that information.
“If I’ve been given a seat by a nav who’s said ‘I can’t do this event can you fill in for me’ I’ll speak to them about the driver so that I know what they need, as I think navigators pick up on stuff that drivers don’t even know themselves,” she adds.
“So to use Will [Mains] as an example, he’ll say ‘push me in certain bits but pull me back in certain bits’. So when we do recce, we’ll go through normally and just read the notes and he’ll amend corners here and there, and then the second time around it’s about where can we push?
“There was a really tight section on [Rali] Ceredigion and I was looking back at some footage, and you can see cars before that have come through and they’d crashed on that bit.
“On my in-car, I’ve said to Will ‘easy now’ and that wasn’t in the notes, but as we came into it I was just like ‘hmmm’ because you’re reading the notes, and I try to explain this to people and people either get it or they don’t, but when you’re a nav you have two different sides of your brain.
“You have the one that’s in autopilot and it’s just reading notes; the other half is analyzing how you’re doing and talking to the other side of your brain, so as you’re reading you’re scouring down the page and thinking ‘what have we got coming up next? Aw s***, we’ve got this really dodgy section, you’re going to have to tell him.’
“It’s having this constant internal monologue. People find it weird when I talk to myself out loud, it’s because I’m constantly doing it as a nav. When I’m talking to my flat mate, they’re asking ‘who are you talking to?’ Just myself. And I think that’s heightened because of co-driving.”
This year, Easton-Page has sat with four different drivers in five different cars. And that’s been absolutely deliberate. Firstly so that she can get as much experience in different cars in different working environments as possible, but also so she can juggle her rallying with her law degree.
“2021 was my Scottish Rally Junior championship winning year with Johnnie and my honors year at uni so that counts towards your overall grade classification, and at the end of third year I was right smack on the border between a 2:1 and a first,” she explains.
“Going into 2022, that’s when I said to Johnnie I really need to focus on upping my grades to get my first, so rallying’s going to have to take a bit of a back seat which is why I was a bit selective. It maybe didn’t take a back seat but I was more careful with what I was doing, and I was only doing the events that I really wanted to do, that I thought were going to be very beneficial.
“Next year, my diploma finishes in May so again I think it’ll be alright to balance up until May and then it’s full steam ahead.
“Throughout my rallying career I’ve always had something else on the side, whether it’s uni, school… there’s always been something else that I’ve had to split my efforts between. But next year, it’s all going to be rallying.”
And she hopes to be doing that with £5000 [$6095] behind her, thanks to the John Easson Award. Run by the 2300 Club in the UK in honor of the late John Easson, the award looks to support young and up-and-coming British competitors – with names like 2019 European Rally champion Chris Ingram on the roll of honor.
Easton-Page is one of four finalists with a shot of winning in 2022.
“It’s an honor to be nominated to be honest. It’s a bit of recognition as well that you’re on the right track.
“I think for a co-driver as well it would be of even more benefit [to win] because quite a lot of navigators don’t have the financial backing that some drivers do. And it’s trying to get recognition for that and also, even in terms of getting sponsorship it’s more difficult for the co-driver because you don’t have the car to use as a tool.
“You don’t have the car to plaster whatever sponsors you want, you don’t have the car to take your sponsors to test days and show them what you do. And also I think it’s sometimes harder as a co-driver to get into rallying because you’ve got Junior 1000 for drivers, but it doesn’t exist for co-drivers.
“It’s difficult for co-drivers as the only way you get seats is 1) you have a budget and 2) you have experience. And the problem with experience is how do you get that in the first place? You need the budget.
“So that’s exactly why I need the budget in order to approach people that have quicker cars and quicker seats because they have higher running costs and they need someone who’s contributing equally, which is how it should be because there’s two of you in the car.
“But because I’m so young and I’ve been a student for the past four years, I don’t have the job, I don’t have the income. You can only go so far, so I’ve tried to do as much as I can with the limiting factors.
“But my thing is if you don’t ask, you don’t get. So you just never know what’s around the corner or who might be looking.
“And the more you do, the more experience you get. The more experience you get, the more people are likely to pick up the phone and go ‘hey Emily, do you fancy doing this next week?’ or whatever.”
By this point the hot chocolate has begun to go cold, so the conversation winds itself to its conclusion. But you sense, in reality, this is only just the beginning.
Regardless of if she wins the John Easson Award or not, it can’t be long before Easton-Page begins to reap the rewards of her labor.
With clear aptitude for her craft, ambition in her plans and dogged determination to realize them, how could she possibly fail?