Rally racing: Pass the baton!

Rally racing is about endurance; with large doses of unpredictability. Rally racing can be likened to running the 90Km Comrades marathon. Due to the protracted nature of competition, nothing can be taken for granted. It is only at the end of a long, arduous process that the winner is eventually crowned. So much can happen between start and finish. Therefore, being successful requires one to manage the emotional ups and downs that occur during the event.

I recently watched the 2012 Sasol rally, that covered 14 stages in and around the forest area of Nelspruit, in Mpumalanga.

Rally racing is all about team work. The demands of performance shift from driver to technical team and back to driver in an ongoing way over an intense two-day period. Driver/navigator and the technical/mechanical team form two inter-dependent components that make up the winning formula. Meaningful information needs to flow between driver and technical team every time the car is brought into the service station.

All of the pressure is on the driving team (driver and navigator) while out on the road tackling the various stages. The driver has to balance risk and caution while absorbing all of the information that is being passed to him by his co-driver, while pushing the car to the extreme in trying to post a winning time. Due to the unforgiving terrain many things can go wrong with the car; from punctures to more severe mechanical breakdowns. There is a high probability of accidents occurring as drivers push their cars to the edge.

Driver, car and terrain – a race against time
Clocking in at the end of a stage

At the end of the stage, the driver brings the car back to the service station. He needs to clock in at a given time. If he arrives late, for whatever reason, time penalties are incurred. During the short 30 minute service period, all of the stress gets transferred onto the technical team as they work under intense pressure to correct any mechanical problems reported to them by the driver. Those working under the car need to sustain their concentration as time quickly ticks by. Hands are hard at work as bolts are loosened, parts replaced, tyres changed, as the car undergoes a change in order to make it competitive again for the next stage; only to know that it will be returned again in a couple of hours needing another transformation.

In the service station – technical team hard at work

Rally racing is pure adrenaline. It can become an emotional roller-coaster for all involved due to the unpredictability of the competition. Given this, the success of a team is determined largely by the ability of each team member to remain calm and focussed on his particular role when things are not going so well, when plans are not unfolding as expected. It is a mentally taxing sport that offers little or no respite for the driver and his mechanical team.

Rally racing is a race against time. It is pure racing, since you are not actually racing against an opponent. It is all about driver, car, terrain and time. Given this, it is important that the driver adopts an internal frame of reference during his performance. He can only control what is under his influence. But since rally racing is all about passing on the baton, the quality of the mechanical service that is provided in that very short service time period, also plays a huge part in determining the final outcome of the event. Without a super-charged piece of machinery, no driver (no matter how good) is capable of winning.

A dust trail – racing for the line
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