We love rallying. Allow us to make the assumption that, as a DirtFish reader, you love rallying too. But none of us love rallying as much as Veronica Engan does.
“I just love all the excitement, the adrenalin, the speed, the competition part – I’m a very competitive person so I just love all this, everything with sitting in the car,” she says.
“Especially when everything is going so well between the driver and the co-driver and the stage is just flowing away, I don’t even think I can explain how much I love it – it’s just so fun, it’s just so exciting.
“It’s just a great feeling when you are in the car and it’s going so well, it’s amazing. It’s the best!”
We promise we aren’t being hyperbolic when we say rallying really is Engan’s life – ever since day one.
Her father Kjetil, sister Marlene and grandfather Ingas have all been both a driver and a co-driver. Her mother Monica Gulbæk has been a co-driver, mostly for her father. Even her brother-in-law is 2015 Drive Dmack Cup champion Marius Aasen in the World Rally Championship.
“I think both my grandmothers, they have not been in a rally car, but except for that I think almost everybody has been!” Engan smiles.
“My dad grew up with his dad doing rallies when rallying started in Norway and then my dad started go-karting, my other grandfather was doing go-karting and so that’s how my parents met, so you can say I’ve got it properly from the birth!
“I have been to so many rallies because my parents did rallying together. My dad did go-karting so I was all [traveling] around Europe with him, so that I don’t remember.
“But I remember a lot of all these winter rallies with the mechanics of my dad because me and my sister were always with the mechanics, so they were like mechanics and babysitters actually!”
I said to my dad it's so cool that she [Tina Thörner] was a co-driver and I said 'when I grow up, I want to be like her'.Engan on what inspired her to become a co-driver
It’s a passion that won’t ever leave her. Which is just as well, given her current role within the WRC service park.
Engan is the team manager for the Toksport World Rally Team – the outfit that ran Andreas Mikkelsen to both the WRC2 and European Rally Championship titles last year and is effectively carrying the torch for Škoda Motorsport in the absence of an official works team.
This year the team is continuing to run Mikkelsen’s Fabia Rally2 evo, but throughout the season also has Marco Bulacia, Nikolay Gryazin, Emil Lindholm and Chris Ingram on its books.
And with an ERC program for its fleet of Renault Clio Rally4s too, naturally Engan has a very intense job – which is just the way she likes it.
“To be on the rallies now with Toksport is very fun. I just love to do it,” she explains.
“My boyfriend said it last time in Sweden: ‘It’s so easy to see on your face that this is your passion because now you look super happy, it’s another person almost.’ It’s just my life you know. Even if I’m in the car or just in the service park all day, it’s just something I love.”
But what does it take to run a world rally team, particularly one with a footprint as large as Toksport’s?
“I think Greece last year was when we had the most crews – I think there were eight or nine. And I remember because I think it’s almost 100 meters from one side to the other side and I had one task in my head going from one side and by the end, coming to the other side, I think I was stopped at least five times with five different questions!” she laughs.
“So yeah, it’s a lot. You’re constantly on all the time, you can’t sit back and relax. It’s not a holiday when you are on the rally for sure, it’s hard work from early morning you’re the first one at the service park and the last one that leaves.
“Of course, our main job is actually done before the rally because there’s all the preparation to find everything that needs to be known for the co-drivers, drivers, mechanics, logistics and everything.
“And then when we are on the rally, from the test we are organizing everything, where we will be, putting up the service park, and I’m always there when the mechanics are starting to put up the service park and do all the administrative checks and all these things.
“During the rally I’m also helping the crews with what they need in the car, things like this, and just basically following the whole rally. The co-drivers are sending me pictures of their time cards, so I’m checking that all the time cards at every time control are correct and calculating the time just to double-check that everything is right.
“If they have some issues, they ask me and I need to sometimes look it up in the FIA regulations – or I will speak with Timo Rautiainen or somebody [similar]. I’m just basically there for them to answer questions to help them.
“And it’s also the same with the mechanics because they also sometimes have questions, it’s not just for the crews it’s for the whole team.
“I feel like I use a lot of my experience as a co-driver, because also one of the colleagues I got last year, he had basically almost never been at a rally before,” she adds.
“I noticed how much I needed to teach him and how happy I was that I had all this experience because, for me, this job I feel that even if it’s a hard job, it’s easy because I know the rules, the regulations; how everything goes from A to Z in a rally.
“I feel that is very fun to do. I can still use all the co-driver knowledge I have into this job instead.”
But don’t for one second be lulled into thinking that Engan’s co-driving knowledge will only now be applied in the service park and not out on the stages. She’s not done with zipping up the overalls and fastening up her own helmet yet – far from it.
Engan is currently expecting the birth of her first child which has put the brakes on her co-driving career for the time being, but as she admits: “I don’t think I will ever not be a co-driver, I just love it!”
She continues: “When I was a kid I was always watching WRC and Formula 1 with my dad on TV, and I remember that it was one Swedish co-driver, her name is Tina Thörner, and I said to my dad it’s so cool that she was a co-driver and I said ‘when I grow up, I want to be like her’.
“So yeah, from that moment on that was always my goal to do that. I tried to just follow what I told my dad.”
Engan’s is a career that has spanned almost 20 years, beginning alongside her father, and encompassing many Norwegian talents like the aforementioned Aasen, Eyvind Brynildsen, Anders Grøndal, Steve Røkland, Bernt Kollevold, Kenneth Johnsrød and a certain charismatic family called the Solbergs.
When Oliver first made the transition from stage rallying to rallycross at just 16 years old, it was Engan that was entrusted with calling the pacenotes.
“It was very cool because Phil Mills has always been one of the big co-drivers that I have looked up to. Since I’ve always known Petter, Pernilla and Henning from when I was a kid, I also knew Phil a bit – albeit not well.
“Then when Oliver was supposed to start driving, they were joking a lot with Phil [that he should co-drive]. But they needed a co-driver that was also small because the co-driver needed to drive the car [as Oliver was too young to have a drivers’ license].
“Phil was one of the people who recommended Petter and Oliver to call me which was very cool, so I think that is one of the reasons why I got that seat.”
Engan’s two-year stint as part of team Solberg culminated with a seat alongside Petter for Rally Spain 2018 – the debut for Volkswagen’s Polo GTI R5 – where they finished third in WRC2.
“It felt unreal for some seconds when he called me to ask,” Engan remembers.
“I was on vacation in Spain and he called me and said ‘we will do Spain together’ and I was like ‘OK!’ For him it was so easy but for me it was like ‘woah, OK!’
“That was huge but then I’d already been working with him for two years so I knew him and his system and I knew how he wanted to have the pacenotes and all these things, so I think it made the work in Spain easier than if I didn’t know him at all from before.
“After that I was supposed to do the whole ERC in ’19 with Catie Munnings but then during that year I also started with a Norwegian driver, Ola Nore, and we did very well on the first rallies we did together.
“And Eyvind and I go a long way back, we did the first rally together in 2007 and on and off, so sometimes we did rallies together and every time we do well and we have a lot of fun together also. I was actually supposed to do the Norwegian championship with him this year, but [that’s] not so easy with a baby onboard!”
Given the family heritage, it’s a safe bet that Engan’s child will have some involvement in rallying in the future too. Love is contagious, and the only thing their mom loves nearly as much as her own family is rallying.
“Toksport have said that when I can come back of course I still have a job with them,” Engan says.
We don’t get the impression she’s going to turn that down, do you?