Co-drivers around the world know the feeling. It’s a special feeling. A special feeling that’s very, very bad. It’s the one where the next road book instruction doesn’t make sense. There’s supposed to be a garage on the left of this junction… or a telephone box on the right. They’re not there.
First thought? Maybe the organizers got it wrong. Maybe the roadbook’s just a little bit out.
Nope. It’s you. You’re wrong. Every time. Best thing to do in that situation, hold your hands up immediately. Stop your driver and buy yourself some time to figure it out.
Don’t, whatever you do, just drive around aimlessly. All that’s going to do is build tension in the car and, if you’re critical on fuel – which is likely as rally cars are never given more than they need – potentially leave you stranded at the side of the road. Just as nine-time world champion Daniel Elena will testify, that’s exactly what happened to him and Sébastien Loeb at Rally of Turkey in 2003.
But, actually, that’s not the feeling I’m talking about. It’s another very similar one.
It’s the one where you’re going through a stage and you notice a warning light.
The engine temperature’s rising. On most rallies you don’t think about this so much, but in Sweden, it can really give your stomach a lurch. Not least because, once the driver notices, there’s only one question coming.
“Did you remove the blanking plate?”
The blanking plate is the registration plate-sized sheet of plastic that covers the air intake at the front, preventing the engine from getting too cold on snow rallies. Forgetting to move it when you go into a stage is a great way to cook an engine very, very quickly.
Again, absolute honesty is the only policy here. If you look down and see it’s not where it should be, say so and stop the car immediately. Jump out and get it shifted. And before you do, don’t forget to mark your place in the notes.
I’ve got to say, this has happened to me. But I’m the luckiest of lucky, it happened on a really short spectator stage. We’d arrived to the stage late and I just clean forgot.
Remembered pretty soon into the stage though. Reading the notes and keeping an eye on a rising engine temperature was not good for my heart rate, but we made it through.
Even luckier, we’d arrived at the start of the stage and had bags of time after the stage was delayed. We got the nod to say we were going in, so we got helmeted up and ready to go. Just as we were about to start, the stage was canceled. Helmets off and I relaxed for a moment when a co-driving colleague wandered over and said. “You’re very efficient, getting the blanking plate back in so quickly.”
He grinned and offered the sort of wink co-drivers use when they know one of their mates has got away with something!