A co-driver is the person who occupies the passenger seat in a road rally car. While they don't get a steering wheel or pedals, a good co-driver is essential to any competitive rally team. They tell the driver what to do.

There are two basic types of rallys. A competition rally, such as the World Rally Championship or SCCA Pro Rally is essentially a one way trip down a series of closed roads. The idea is to go as fast as you possibly can without flipping, hitting a tree or wall, and other self-destructive activities. In order to win you do have to finish. The event is run in a series of stages, and the rally may take several days to complete. The Paris - Dakar Rally takes weeks and covers thousands of miles. Though they may be run on paved roads, most are run on back roads, so dirt, snow, gravel etc are simply normal course conditions.

In preparation for a pro rally, the competitors are allowed one slow drive down the course. The co-driver, sometimes called the navigator makes a series of notes about the course. Which will include the distance to the next turn, the turn's severity which is usually noted in numbers one to five. Course conditions will be noted, because missing a bad spot can lead to accidents.

For example:

Gravel on the Exit tells the driver that things will get a bit slippery when they exit the turn, and what seems like a safe entrance speed actually is not.

Roundups describes a sunken road bed that has rounded shoulders. Get off course a bit at speed and you may find yourself doing a bit of roof racing. Fortunately, all rally cars are equipped with a roll cage.

Pretty much anything is possible on a pro rally. What the co-driver does during the rally itself is read these notes back to the driver, so he or she can plan his moves.

Sounds simple, right? Wrong! A World Rally Championship car may look like a Subaru Impreza, but it's not. It is a pure race car producing 300 horsepower out of only two liters. It weighs under a ton, and will smoke a Z-06 Corvette or Porsche without breathing hard. Pro Rally cars are driven by madmen. I have a friend who used to hook one wheel in a culvert to pull himself around corners faster. Worked fine until he hit a pipe. So think about keeping your head down, eyes locked on your computer as you bounce up and down, on gravel, at over 100 MPH! And read with cool precision. Not everybody can do that and keep their lunch down. Plus a good co-driver keeps their driver calm as well. They are in-car coaches.

Good co-drivers are actually rarer than drivers, and if you get a reputation as good one, expect to get a paid ride. Without a good one, no one can expect to win. Because it is the co-driver who controls the car. A former pro-rally driver told me, "When my navigator tells me to turn now, I turn, whether I see the corner or not."

Time and distance rallies are different, in that the course route is unknown before the departure time. In other words, you don't have a clue where you're suppsed to go. In a time and distance rally, precision is the goal, not raw speed. They are run on public roads, so technically legal speed limits apply. Technically. Many demand a brisk pace. Meaning you have to drive hard. Therefore co-drivers endure many of the same stresses as his or her professional cousins. Sharp eyes, precision and a calm demeanor are critical. No one wins without a good co driver.

Co-driving can be a lot of fun. I've done it in time/distance rallies, and you are very much a part of winning. A driver and co-driver are a team and neither goes far without the other.

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