I’ve been fortunate enough to have been friends with Viv for many years now and he’s been an instrumental figure in helping me learn how to steer around a race track however, as one of the quieter members of the crew, there’s a large side to Viv outside of a tarmac circuit that we don’t usually hear about!
When he’s not assisting others with driving tuition at Winton, Viv is one of those crazy people that think hurtling through a forest at insane speed trying to avoid trees is fun.
A few weeks back, Viv was driving at a Rally which was quite close to Melbourne (in the Yarra Valley) and he invited me to come spectate knowing that I had no excuse not to come and watch him for the first time
NB: In retrospect, probably another one of his ploys to try ruin/enrich my life :P- See previous post.
So on Sunday morning in September, I set off with Jally and Peter not really knowing what to expect.
As a fan of WRC back in the Solberg/Loeb days I’d always thought that rally drivers were the best drivers in the world however, nothing had prepared me for this.
It was an eye opening and intoxicating experience. Witnessing first hand with my own eyes their ability to navigate an ever changing surface with varying weather conditions while trying to avoid crashing into the rest of the forest is something that has to be seen, heard and felt in person to truly appreciate.
I had an absolute blast and attempted to take photos to capture the day but honestly what better way to give you guys some insight into the mind of a Rally driver than by interviewing a Rally driver!
The below is my interview with Viv with questions myself as well as some random reader questions.
Photos: Pics I took at the Yarra Valley Rally and some I stole from Viv’s Facebook page taken by John Doutch.
1) How did you get into Rallying?
Watching motorsport as a kid, I was into F1 and SBK racing but nothing compared to watching Possum Bourne, Cody Crocker and Simon Evans driving Subaru rally cars through the forest. I was totally hooked on rallying.
From seeing how fast I could ride my bike around the block, to hire karts with friends, I loved racing and going fast.
It wasn’t until I had my first full time job that I had money to spend on organised motorsport. I had to buy a Subaru.
Through a work friend, I was invited to join a skid pan day with EXE. The event was split between skid pan and two short timed road stages (mini wang and long wang). The skid pan was fun, but the road stages were epic!!
From there, things escalated insanely quickly!
Within the next year I had somehow driven trackdays at Winton and Spa-Francorchamps, driven the Nürburgring and found myself at the annual Excel Rally test day.
2) How long have you been Rallying?
Akademos Rally is on Oct 21, 2018. That was my first rally 7 years ago. It’ll be great to go back to the start line where I first wrapped my hands around the steering wheel of a rally car, preparing to drive flat out on a gravel road.
3) What Rally cars have you driven/owned?
– Hyundai Excel – my first and most winningest rally car.
– Subaru Impreza WRX GC8 – absolutely unbelievable to drive.
– Subaru Impreza WRX GC8 – yes, other one, equally as good.
– Ford Fiesta R2
4) Tell us a bit about the differences between them all.
The Excel is a brilliant car to start rallying in. It’s nimble, balanced, low cost and parts are plentiful. When learning to read blind gravel roads, listen to directions from a co-driver and feel how a car reacts on different road surfaces, you appreciate the extra time you get from the limited power of the Excel. Having said that, once you get it wound up, it’s not unusual to top 150kph. It just takes a little longer to get there.
The WRX is a different beast. I jumped from entry level straight to one of the fastest rally cars in Australia. It’s hard to describe the experience of driving a high power 4wd rally car in competition. Everything happens so quickly and the speed is so high that it’s hard to stay ahead of the car. You have to think so far ahead that the car control itself becomes instinctive. You need to process the pacenotes 2 or 3 corners ahead. And it’s not really a car you can drive slowly. The sequential gearbox and low-end torque encourage you to keep pulling gears, the big brakes urge you to brake late and the diffs make it feel like you can carry incomprehensible speed through the corners.
Now driving the Fiesta R2 is probably the step in between Excel and WRX that I skipped. It’s a step quicker than the Excel, a bit more stable and has some great upgrades like sequential gearbox and good suspension.
5) Can you tell us about the lead up to the WRX accident and what happened?
We were in a solid 2nd position in the Victorian Rally Championship (VRC) after two podium finishes in the first two rallies. Darren Windus had a clear lead and had shown that he was a level above, but he missed this event, instead giving the keys to his son Arron. So there’s a good chance that had we finished the rally, we would have been leading the championship. That all went pear-shaped 5km into SS1 where Tracey and I lay on the road injured with our car on fire, while Arron and co-driver Joe tried to put out the flames under the bonnet.
The rally started like any other. Chris Ellis had prepared the car well, Tracey and I had done a good recce the day before and written notes we were happy with. Our goal as always was to have a clean run and drive well.
We knew SS1 was a dangerous stage, with tricky surface and a lot of trees near the road. That’s not unusual for a rally. We knew we had to keep it tidy on this stage and drive with more precision than the other stages, which were more open and flowing. It was also the first rally after a break, so I knew it would take some time for me to get back up to speed.
I had the normal calm excitement and anticipation on the start line. This was a self-start rally, so we watched the countdown on our in car RallySafe unit. Straight away from the launch, it felt good to be back in the rally car. I could feel the surge of the power, the tyres scrambling for grip and the diffs working to maximise the acceleration.
The first couple of km were narrow and twisty, with stumps and logs on the apexes of corners and plenty of trees to catch mistakes, so we kept it neat, trying to drive fast enough to make the car handle properly but with a margin to drive precise lines. A nibble on the handbrake in the slow corners.
At the bottom of a short downhill straight, there was a bump, then a dip into a fast right-left corner. You don’t just leave the road and hit a tree. There are always several things that contribute. In our case there were many factors, but in short, we entered at high speed and got the line wrong over the bump, which put us off line for the right, into the left. As we left the road, a log damaged a wheel and made it harder to control. We hit the tree head on in the centre of the front bumper. It all happened within a couple of seconds, but I remember every moment.
From the moment of impact, the rally safety procedures kicked in and the organisers and first response teams were brilliant in how quickly they were able to respond. Thanks to the RallySafe system and the planning of the rally organisers.
That was the end of our season, the end of the car and the start of a tough recovery for us.
6) Are you still as confident in your skills as before your big accident? – Charlie C
It was months before I was allowed to drive, so there was no chance to get straight back on the horse. I also didn’t have a car to drive. The next year in the absence of rallying, I did a full season with IKC hire kart racing and Nugget Nationals time attack. That helped to rebuild my confidence. I still don’t have the same level of commitment in the car as before.
7) What made you decide to go back to rallying after the crash, did you at any stage think that you didn’t want to? – Steve K
You don’t lose a lifelong passion overnight, so I was pretty sure I’d get back to rallying. I also had a lot of support from everyone, especially Jally and my family.
I don’t know whether I’ll do it at the same level, competing for a state championship. That takes a high level of commitment both in the car and financially. But I still love driving on gravel and rallying is the safest way to do that. You control the risks by how hard you push and how much you invest in safety gear. Before the accident, we spent a lot of money on having the best safety gear and it proved to be worth it. The HANS devices in particular literally saved our necks. I’m glad I did go back. I have really enjoyed it since coming back this year.
8) How did you manage to get a seat in the Fiesta?
Looking back to the Excel Rally training day where I went to take a first look at entering rallying, it was John Carney who offered me a drive of his Excel for my first rally experience behind the wheel. He has supported many drivers trying to start out in the sport.
He sold me an Excel Rally car and I joined his team Gunnawyn Motorsport. We won the next two years of the Excel series together, then upgraded to the Subaru and finished 2nd in VRC.
After a couple of years apart, John had various other projects and one was kicking off the Fiesta series in Victoria. The Excel series has been very successful, so it made sense that you could use the same concept in an intermediate level, more recent car to give people an option to step up without going to full budget turbo 4wd or insanely fast 2wd.
In supporting the series, John wanted to enter a car. He asked if I’d like to have a drive. Pretty trusting of him, given what happened the last time I drove a rally car. It was a great chance for me to drive again, join the awesome Gunnawyn guys and try out the Fiesta series.
9) What is your favourite thing about driving the Fiesta?
Any car with a sequential gearbox is a hoot to drive! I like the Fiesta overall. It’s at home on gravel. Fiesta rally cars are a great choice, because of the development work done by M-Sport based on the FIA specs. They’ve ironed out the bugs and worked out how to prepare them to be quick and reliable.
10) How did the start of the day go on the Yarra Valley Rally?
For me, the rally had extra significance. These are the roads where I watched my rally heroes compete. Back in the day, after spectating at rallies I would explore in my road car. But the VRC hasn’t used these roads since I started rallying, so this was the first time I’ve been able to drive them in competition. It was amazing!
Mt Slide road was great to drive at road speed in my 1984 Honda Civic. It’s unreal to drive it in a rally car unleashed. I was beaming!
11) How did the day end?
We were getting faster through the day and getting closer to the times set by Steve Raymond in the leading Fiesta. With 1km of gravel stage and one tarmac stage to go, we hit a small set of holes on the road in just the wrong way and it broke our suspension.
Random reader questions:
12) Do you think an S13 with lift kit is an appropriate beginner’s car? – Kam A
Actually yes, why not. As long as it’s not stupidly powerful. An S13 would be a lot of fun. Chuck on some used gravel tyres and big mud flaps and give it a go at an autoX.
13) Have you ever had to pee during a stage? – Charlie C
You usually go before a stage, but sometimes the timing is so tight that you can’t stop and get out. On stage, you’re so busy that you quickly forget you needed to go. It’s also more of a challenge to get fluids in than out, ‘cos it’s very physical and can be hot in the car when you’re wearing a race suit, so you need to drink a lot.
14) Are big balls soft or hard? – Perry T
Soft, then hard.
Yes, I wear glasses with an open-face helmet. I can’t see very well without glasses, so it’s probably best for my co-driver and the spectators that I wear them.
16) How different is it to a standard time attack event? – Steve K
If you think of time attack, but the track is gravel, 20km long, half as wide and you have to set your best time on the first lap. You’re pretty close to rallying.
Then add in some blind crests and corners where your only guide is a co-driver telling you where the road goes.
And you drive 7 different race tracks in a day, all for the first time.
A lot of rallying is about the navigation and teamwork in the car, as well as the ability to read a road for the first time. Where time attack is more about learning the track intimately and making little improvements to get faster each lap.
17) What skills do you find different to time attack or wheel to wheel racing? – D Napo
Unlike F1, in rallying you need to respect the track limits, because the run-off is trees.
18) What would be your dream rally car? – Ying
I drove my dream car… Subaru Impreza WRX GC8. This is the car I always wanted to drive and I’m very lucky to have had the chance to do it. It’s an unbelievably good car to drive on gravel, especially at maximum attack.
If not the WRX, I’d love to have a go in a Group B Peugeot 205 T16. Those things were insane!
19) We noticed that the cars with ‘misfiring system’ sounded really cool at the rally.Where is your misfiring system? – Peter N
I think the Fiesta is loud enough! Don’t you? 😀
It’s not like the Excel where people can’t hear you coming.
Nothing beats the sound of anti-lag in the forest. Although it does make it very clear to all the spectators when you’re not on full throttle.
No turbo on the Fiesta, so no lag, so no anti-lag.
20) What kind of events do you recommend for someone looking at starting rally? – Ying
AutoX is a great place to start. You can drive a road car and meet a lot of the great people involved in rallying. Everyone helps each other out and is more than happy to help you get started.
There are plenty of events around Victoria. Several of the clubs have “come and try” days, specifically for newbies. There you get to play at pretty low cost events.
21) Why are Rally tyres so skinny? Where are the 295’s? – Peter N
Grip on gravel is a bit different to grip on tarmac. You want to tyre to bite through the gravel to the surface below. If the tyre is too wide, it floats over the loose gravel and you can’t get any traction, a bit like aquaplaning.
22) Do you play Rally games? If yes, do you think they are realistic? – Brett S
Before I started rallying, I played a lot of rally games. Colin McRae Rally 2 was awesome. Not realistic but great fun.
The most realistic was Richard Burns Rally, a game released in 2004 and never beaten. The PC version was quite realistic and taught me a lot about car control on gravel. The original game was single-player, but it was patched by the I gaming community so you could compete online. I played for many many hours.
23) What is your preferred drive train lay out? – Peter N
Given the choice, I’d take AWD. They can do things the others can’t and driven well they’re great to watch too.
24) How important is a co-driver to your success as a driver? – Ying
About as important as windscreen wipers in the rain. Without them you’re basically driving blind, probably in the wrong direction… and you’re late.
Co-drivers don’t just give directions. They make sure you book into each time control on time. They do the fuel calculations. And they often run the logistics for the entire team, including service locations/times, accommodation, food, etc.
A rally would not run without co-drivers.
25) What character traits or skills do you like your co-driver to have? – Ying
The main thing is being able to work well together under pressure and spend the whole day in the car side-by-side without driving each other nuts. I’ve been lucky to have some really awesome co-drivers.
The best co-drivers can call the notes with expert timing without looking up. They don’t need to see the corners, ‘cos they can feel them. That way they can keep a constant flow of the notes without pausing to look up at the road, potentially losing their place in the notes.
They also know how hard you’re pushing and how well you’re driving, to tell you to speed up or slow down.
26) Is fear a positive or negative when rallying? How do you make the most of it if it’s positive or manage it if it’s a negative? – Peter J
Depends what you’re afraid of. You have an instinctive fear when you think you’re driving beyond your ability. It’s good to listen to that fear and back off a bit.
Fear of crashing generally goes away after you feel fear and survive, proving that you need not fear. That comes with experience. Often you’re too busy concentrating to be afraid.
27) Do you prefer gravel, tarmac, or mixed surface rallies and why? – Peter J
Is snow not an option? Driving on snow and ice is awesome! I would love to drive a snow rally one day.
In terms of rallying, to me tarmac is either too fast or too easy. I like mixed surface for variety and I wouldn’t say no to Targa Tasmania or Rallye Monte Carlo… but I do love driving on gravel.
28) What does the roof scoop do? Is it necessary? – Aytac
The roof scoop has two important jobs.
A car with no air con and two people in race suits gets pretty hot. Any fresh airflow is good.
It also creates positive air pressure in the car, which stops dust from being sucked in through the many little holes there are in a car; holes you don’t know exist until you go rallying.
With a roof vent, you can drive with the windows up. That keeps the car aerodynamic and dust-free.
29) Anyone who you would like to thank? – Ying
In motorsport, especially rallying, you always want to thank everyone and you can never thank them enough.
Family, teammates, organisers, volunteers, sponsors; everyone who enables you to pursue your passion. You can’t name them all, but they know who they are.