Rally NZ: You're not just a passenger

By Eric Thompson

John Kennard and Hayden Paddon. Photo / Supplied
John Kennard and Hayden Paddon. Photo / Supplied

Don't confuse the missus guiding you from an A4 map on the way up to Cable Bay at the legal limit with tearing through narrow, tree-lined gravel roads and speeds approaching 200km/h.

Competition rally drivers may have sped over the roads they're about to race on once or twice, but remembering every little crest, kink, camber, junction and corner over 400km is just not possible.

If you think all a co-driver does in a rally is call out notes to help the driver remember what's up ahead, you couldn't be further from the truth. The truly unfamiliar to rallying may even be thinking why they need notes in the first place.

Without a co-driver, a stage will unravel faster than a woolly jumper caught on a nail. A co-driver holds the key to making it to the end of each stage.

Production World Rally champion Hayden Paddon has one of the best in the business and sitting in the car is his right hand man. On the eve of the New Zealand round of the WRC Driven put a few questions to John Kennard, the bloke in charge of the notes and helping Paddon know left from right.

"I wouldn't say the drivers would be doomed without us sitting next to them, but at the very least they'd be lost," said Kennard, 53. "The thing a lot of people don't realise is that the driver makes the notes. "A lot of them assume the co-driver makes the notes whereas for us, when we drive down the road Hayden reads to me the information he's seeing and I write it down in a way a secretary would take down shorthand."

This is the point where the co-driver's skill comes into play. Kennard has to get all Paddon's thoughts and observations down on paper in such an order that it will make sense at race speed. "The skill is getting the information back to Hayden at the right time in the right order," said Kennard.

The observations of road shape and condition are very detailed. On average, for each stage a page is filled out for each kilometre travelled. On a long stage it would almost equate to a book.

"The systems are basically the same, but different people have different ways of describing things. Some will describe a corner with a number system while others will describe them as fast, medium or slow.

"For some using numbers, the numeral one will be a really slow corner while an eight is the fastest corner. For others it's the other way around. Whatever system is used it's the best that clicks for your brain ... so when the note comes through you don't have to think about it."

The Kiwi pair use a number system where a one means a hairpin and an eight is where there's the merest of kinks in the road.

The next really important job for a co-driver is timekeeping. If a car arrives at a time control point too early or too late the penalties are almost draconian.

"Good timekeeping is critical," Kennard said. "People have made mistakes and it's cost them event wins."

Another important role for the person in the spare seat is to keep everything nice and calm both in and out of the car. If they feel the driver is getting a little heated, they must be able to diffuse the situation and keep the pressure at a minimum. Drivers from the top of the WRC tree, including world champions, down to weekend warriors all sing the praises of their co-conspirator when chucking a tonne or two of metal around on gravel rounds.

Without the co-driver sitting 10cm away from you, it's highly unlikely you'll finish the stage let alone be in contention for a title.

"John is an integral part of what we do and it would be impossible to do the job to any great degree without him," Paddon said.

"We discuss the notes together but it's John who passes on the information at the right time to allow me to concentrate on my driving."

Even nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb knows he needs his main man in the seat next to him and says: "He is an important part of course, like all the team. We have started together, we have won everything together."

- NZ Herald

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