“You can always see there’s a passenger in a rally car. But who is he?”
“What is he doing in the car? Is he just there for ballast? What is he?”
Who is he? What is he?
There’s an intriguing air of mystery in the world of the rally car. From the thick, dark, wooded forests to that strange, helmeted, anonymous figure speaking furiously on the passenger side.
What is he?
Is the co-driver of a rally car some sort of superhuman creature that goes unspoken of? Do they have a rare quality not found in the ordinary man that allows them that extra-terrestrial ability to perform in the most intense, high-speed of situations?
Nicky Grist, 21-time rally winning co-driver, doesn’t think so. They’ve got a job and they do it well. They work hard and make the difference and that’s where the victory is.
The co-driver is the Speed Reader. To the rest of us, they are superhuman. In the world of rallying, they are absolutely vital.
“[What’s] Regarded as the most important thing is the reading of the pace notes. It’s the special stages where you win or lose the rallies.”
That’s how important they are. The fine balance of winning and losing is omnipresent in every sport, but perhaps none more so than in rallying. In rallying, you’re putting your life in someone else’s hands.
“It’s like a marriage. It’s a second marriage. We’re always relying on each other. That trust is total… total trust.”
And total trust equals success in this sport. But when it goes wrong, boy, it goes wrong.
“We came over a really big jump somewhat semi sideways and the car actually landed on the front wheel… All of a sudden, we are going at completely the wrong angle. The whole impact went through the engine and gearbox, split all the engine in half… If we had hit that tree at high speed, for sure it would have taken me out. It was sixth gear at over 100mph… And that was probably the worst one ever.”
But thankfully Grist survived his brush with death and went on to become one of the most successful co-drivers of his generation. Now he’s overseeing the next one; the future of rally driving that lies among the youthful talent rising through the ranks with their superhuman abilities.
Keaton Williams has taken the baton from Nicky Grist. As a 22-year-old protege, he’s determined to make it to the top like his mentor did.
“I won a road rally. That feeling of winning and getting success really just motivated me to try and become a professional.”
Williams puts himself in the same seat as Grist did. He sits in the passenger side; the side of the composed, the steely, the focussed.
With an iron will and bravery not seen in most, he entrusts his driver to send him crashing across rally courses and through the air for victory and success.
And the driver entrusts him to ensure every millisecond is cut and every millimetre is used. Rally driving is a fine art, a science of sorts, and every single moment is accounted for.
“Pushing the boundaries, using every inch of the road… Everything was controlled, discussed, and planned.”
But not everything is entirely perfected in this world. Putting your life on the line is a risky business for anyone, no matter how talented they are.
“Lady Luck is playing a far bigger part nowadays than she ever did and I think to win a world championship you’ve gotta have luck on your side.”
Not to mention avoiding an impending death.
But Grist wouldn’t change the sport for the world. He sees it for what it is; the pinnacle of skill, speed and survival.
“We’ve had a great time and there’s nothing I would change.” Nicky Grist, the Speed Reader.