Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to become an official factory driver handbook for dummies

Ok so the title is cliché but hey, this is my blog. 

This subject will assume that you are a newbie, young or still wet behind the ears kinda guy.  If you want to make it and be paid for it this is what you need:

1. Have talent to drive. 

This is rather obvious, but there are a lot of drivers out there who have forgotten that part.

2. Find money to pay for your first drives.  (there will be a future chapter dedicated to that very juicy subject)

3. If no other way, pay for a drive in a professional team.  

You need to make sure that you are surrounded by people who know their stuff.  As a newbie driver, your first experiences on the stages are crucial.  You must have a car that is reliable and permits you to finish rallies to gain mileage.  Your car must also be adjusted correctly and give you proper feedback in feeling.  This is the car you will make your first mistakes in so make sure it is safe. (More on this in a following chapter)

4. Learn right from the start to make notes and drive on them. 

Getting detailed advice from a professional, experienced driver of WRC is highly recommended.  Don't go down the "I will learn the stages by heart" path 'cause it won't get you anywhere.  Today's top drivers are all able to take notes, correct them once and go flat out on a stage they don't know, safely.  They are in perfect sync with their notes, kinda like in a trance !! 

The whole taking notes and driving on them is the problem of racing drivers who come in rally late in their careers because learning how to drive on notes is a long and tough process.  I started to be comfortable and confident with my notes in 2005.  My notes are derived from my father's system and I have modified them according to the demands of modern rallying.  I had to make mine faster to read although I still kept quite a lot of detail because I did not use video, like many do.

Notes need to tell you the racing line of a corner or combination of corners, eventually the speed at which you can take it, sometimes when to brake if you can't see the braking point, how to take jumps, where to position your car on blind crests, etc.
(I will further explore this subject in a future chapter)

5. Practice in small events and stay away from the spot light as long as you can while you are learning the basics. 

The mistake I did was letting myself be sucked into the media whirl right at the start.  As soon as you get into the spotlight, and especially if you are the son of a successfull ex-driver like myself, people expect too much from you, too quickly.

Rally is not circuit racing.  Talent is not enough when you are a newbie, you need experience and lots of it.  The stages in the WRC are the toughest technical roads one can find, anywhere in the world.  The competing drivers are all extremely fast and experienced who, for some, have done the stages for years.  There is no way that you can come in and light the fires just like that.  Sure, you might go fast on the first stage, than have a huge crash in the second.

Be humble, drive without overdoing it.  Gain experience and open the throttle when the feeling is good.  At 400.000Euros a pop, crashing cars like Colin McRae or Vatanen style is not doing it anymore.  If your ego wants to push that pedal down, you better have the cash to back it up.  This was not my case so I took the step by step road.  (More on the now infamous "3, then 5 year plan" to get to the top in a future Random Short Interlude)

6. When you are fast and reliable, find more cash.

A single event & testing will cost you anywhere between 150.000 and 250.000 Euros so find the cash.  Get yourself some drives in a Citroën WRC (the most competitive of the moment) on some events and light the fires.  Try to beat the official drivers at least on some stages. 

7. Get yourself a manager who talks politics with the team bosses as you are driving

Politics are an inherent part of the sport.  Going fast and being reliable is not enough.  You need to get into bed with the teams and look for any opening.  If one of the official drivers is not performing, what better idea than a manager whispering your name to the boss as he sees his driver failing live on the screens.  Oh my, the psychology...

8. Keep your mouth shut.

Today's bosses don't like drivers with character who speak their minds, unless they are established superstars.  They just want you to perform, say the car is great, thank the team, the sponsors, the manufacturer, maybe the family.

Rally, and sport in general, is extremely tough psychologically.  Emotions can run very high.  You must be psychologically strong enough to keep your mouth shut in the toughest moments.  If you know that you are a bit of a "hot" character (like me), get help from a sports psychologist.  Many top athletes are followed by shrinks (I wasn't, by the way).

9. Get your manager or a close person to keep an ear open and an eye out for things.

Days are long during rallies and reconnaissance.  Meanwhile lots is going on behind the scenes from changes in the organization of the event like cancellation of stages and god knows what else.  You need to be aware of things, so that for example, you don't miss your shakedown time because it changed and nobody thought of telling you...

10. Look at what the other drivers are doing. 

Don't hesitate to copy good ideas, and protect yours like a rabid hound.

11. Pray that you were born in the right year.

That's right.  Drivers have long careers and seats are few.  Many guys can drive but few are there at the right time and right place. 

1 comment:

  1. Point n°8 make me think about François Delecour ... "toyota cheat" (MC 1993) , "my team-mates makes illicit reconaissance" (versus Panizzi , san remo 2000 or 2001). "this car is a shit" (about the mitsu lancer at the end of his career in wrc). He was a blody fast driver , but really too "big mouth" and emotional. And like you say , right now it's "thanks to the team, the sponsors, the manufacturer..."