It’s co-drivers’ time!

 

We damn journos usually tend to write only about drivers, seeming to forget that the other side is at least as important. But now it’s co-drivers’ time, and not only on Rally-Raid Network, but also in the 2020 edition of Dakar Rally which promises to be particularly interesting and focused on navigators...

French organiser ASO labels the 42 edition of Dakar Rally as the beginning of a new chapter. Saudi Arabia offers a new challenge to everyone in an unknown and unforgiving terrain and new race director David Castera, himself a seasoned and experienced co-driver, announced a set of actions to make the sport more human and less technological in terms of navigation, drastically limiting or even eliminating so-called map-men, reforming the navigation rules of the world’s hardest motorsport event profoundly. There will be stages for which the crews only receive the roadbook right before the start, pre-coloured. This aims to eliminate the differences between smaller and bigger teams, to ensure a fair and equal fight on the track in a more leveled competition, not so dependent on technology or resources, but instead demanding more navigation skills.

As a side effect, the average speed will probably be reduced, since the teams relied greatly on the notes and map-men’s work. Now they must take more time to find the right way and can’t be driving so fast otherwise they may go “gardening” and lose even more time than if they were driving slower.

Brave new world?

Rallye du Maroc 2019 worked as a “test tube” for this new system, with the organisers testing a set of solutions related to the new roadbook, allowing the teams to have a first real contact with this form of navigation.

Like in everything else, when a radical change is made the probability of problems showing up is high. In Rally du Maroc, on the first day of trying the new system, several top teams had accidents  (Ten Brinke, Prokop, Van Loon, Domzala, Alonso). Of course, it is impossible to judge how much the new pre-coloured roadbook contributed to the accidents, as such incidents also happened countless times with the traditional system and it’s not unusual that the crews blame the roadbook.

The organisers have now shown the path they want to take for at least their races, if not for the whole sport. But despite all the credits the idea has, it needs to be fine-tuned to be safer and fairer to everybody. While in the past each rider or driver had his particular marking or side notes, now everybody will have to read the same, and this gives a lot of responsibility to those not only writing the roadbook, but also marking it because the smallest error could have catastrophic results.  

The end result we all expect (or at least hope for) is a more human competition, focused on those racing, and not on technology or the other people attached to a computer analysing every inch of the route with the new tools we all have access to. 

After many years in the shadow, it is finally time for co-drivers to return to their rightful place.

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