From the outside, their job may seem like anyone could do it, but their role is much more than dictating pace notes! We meet up with three co-drivers competing in the Clio R3T Trophy France to learn more about their profession.
While the spotlight is focused on the rallies, this discipline is no exception to other sports involving the long-term work done in the shadows.
“About 60 to 70% of our work is done prior to the rally’’, says Victor Bellotto, who this year has been sitting to the right of Florian Bernardi. “At our level, this can determine the outcome of the weekend. When we can, we analyse the on-board cameras and we recycle the notes in order to gain time if the special stage hasn’t changed. We also prepare the recce by studying the maps; the number of authorized runs and the specific schedules… Every detail is gone over with a fine-toothed comb to optimize our planning!"
“We prepare a roadmap that outlines the rally two weeks before the start”, confirms Thibaut Poizot’s co-driver Marion Grand. “It is an essential tool to make sure each member of the team knows exactly what they have to do on site, including the specificities of the Renault environment, like interviews, briefings and verifications… For example, the roadmap for the Cœur de France is now ready. We have our recce route, the quantity provided for each refuelling and other details. Although this will be our first time on this round, we know what we are going to do. So, it is important to prepare the rally just like the driver prepares his car, that is to say, before the start!”
"The role of co-driver has really grown since I started in 1981”, explains Éric Filippi’s co-driver, Francis Mazotti. “Back then, we didn’t have to analyse the regulations, but now we follow their evolutions over the years. Now, you have to deal with those of the federation, those of the rally organiser and those of the promotion series in order to avoid any mistake. In addition, all this preparation work can include logistical and administrative aspects that drivers like to delegate to co-drivers in order to focus on driving, but we all know the rules before signing up! "
A vital role on site
“As soon as we turn up at the rally, I am in charge of the timing”, details Victor Bellotto. “As I am getting to know Florian very well, I can prepare the theoretical timetables between the start and finish of the special stages down to the minute. I also take eventual roadworks that could slow us down into account. At the end of the day, there is a lot of work to do to clean up the notes that on a good day can take five hours and twice as long on a bad one! Each co-driver has their technique, but I prefer not to hesitate and make sure they are as clear as possible.”
“The recce days are the busiest”, confirms Marion Grand. “Personally, I don’t clean my notes. I take them with a pencil and I can just correct them with an eraser. After that the rally begins in earnest. I am always stressed in the opening special stage, but that goes away once we are up to speed and we can then concentrate on the intonation. However, as Thibault is a pretty relaxed driver, he doesn’t always have the notion of time in the moment, and that’s an inherent part of our role...”
“We are like a coordinator”, continues Victor Bellotto, to which Francis Mazotti agrees. “There’s still work to do during the rally. We stay in contact with the service crew, we look after the times and check-ins, but we also have to control things like fuel consumption and the tyres before relaying the information to the team. Over the years, these aspects have taken on more and more importance, like the type of tyres, the pressure or even the fact that all the equipment needed is well indeed in the car.”
What is the key to success?
While none of the three risks revealing the recipe to create the perfect co-driver, they do agree on a number of points concerning the qualities required for their role.
“A co-driver must remain calm, thoughtful and very orderly”, states Marion Grand. “If we let our emotions get the better of us, the driver will feel it and he already has his hands full driving the car. So, you have to be as efficient as possible in your note giving and intonation… And we must always go forward, because we often help the driver to stay focused in difficult situations.”
“There is also a question of confidence”, adds Victor Bellotto. “We need to have confidence in the driver, who for his part can count on us. In itself, our job is not extremely hard, but not everyone has the required qualities. It is a very cerebral profession, because you have to be very curious, be able to understand how the car works as well as how a rally is run to be totally complete.”
“In the car, we are one crew”, concludes Francis Mazotti. “If we manage to feel this chemistry, then we understand everything, this is where feeling is extremely important. Something has to happen in the cockpit, so that we can speak honestly. Without that, it’s not a lot of fun, we can’t really share and we can’t work seriously. "