The first running of the Jack Neal Memorial Rally held at Blyton in Lincolnshire was the latest venue for the Mini Sport Rally Team to compete again recently with the Aberdeenshire crew of Martin Page and “The Missus” Claire making the 900 mile round trip to compete to help raise funds for the Pendleside Hospice.

On this occassion, the four car Mini Sport Team had a change from the normal running with Mini Sports mechanic Mick Anderson driving Daniels Cooper ‘S’ and co-driven by his 15 year old son Ben. The Dawes brothers Ian and Gary swapped driving and co-driving roles for the day while John Cressey was co-driven by his mechanic Jim Constantine. Martin also had a first timer alongside as Claire vacated her usual role driving the Management car to make her co-driving debut in the rally car with him.

Here, Claire reports on her own experience of how it all went in the lesser known side of a rally car – the co-drivers seat.

With 12 tarmac stages to get through and a new mix of crews in the rally cars it was possibly going to be an eventful day. 

Having sorted all the paper work for the rally I was a little nervous going into the first stage with the responsibility of calculating times and reading the route through the intercom. I have been involved with the team for a few years now and have seen all the in-car camera footage from each rally but nothing prepares you for the assault on the senses that being in a rally car at full speed gives you. Its very noisy and the car is sliding sideways at ridiculous speeds. Its amazing.

I had a real insight into the job of the co-driver and saw just how important they are in the car. I nearly missed a time control coming out of one of the stages but realised in time and got us back there without any time penalty. 

By the second special stage I was a little more confident at calling bends and surface changes but had Martin laughing as for some reason I was compelled to tell him when I thought he should use the handbrake by shouting “handbrake, handbrake” about six times on the rather fast approach to a hairpin. 

Back in Service the car was given a good check over and I consulted Davie Stuart our brilliant mechanic on how much fuel to put in the car for the next few stages. The co-driver is also responsible for overseeing each service as the mechanics have to do any repairs within a specified time, calculated by me! If I had got the sums wrong we could have incurred time penalties. The responsibility is huge and so are the consequences if a co-driver gets it wrong.

Back out on the stages all was going well when Martin suddenly reported that the car had lost power. It was noticably misfiring. This is a real distraction for ‘your’ driver as I found out when Martin questioned the route. In these situations I had been told that the co-driver is the boss as he or she should know exactly what the route and timings are and should stick to their guns. At this point the co-driver would also be radio’ing the mechanics to give them advanced warning that something is up and to be ready for us in Service.

Thankfully I did stick to my guns and much to my own relief kept us on track. Unfortunately we had to suffer the misfire for three stages but Martin made the best of it and cracked on until we could make repairs.

Back at Service, Davie did a brilliant job of diagnosing and replacing split injector seals…..whatever they are! He was also kept busy when The Brother’s Dawes came into service with a snapped drive shaft. Incredibly he singlehandedly removed the old broken one and replaced it in a matter of a few minutes. 

With my new found confidence and the cars performance improved we went into the final stages. With practice from the previous special stages, I was now calling all the bends fluently and even throwing in my own made up calls of “handbrake at will !” I think I was starting to put “my driver” off a little as he kept laughing at this for some reason!

The feeling of crossing the flying finish on the last stage was absolutely amazing. I have looked at the in-car camera film and all you can hear is me cheering and clapping! I had finished my first ever rally as a co-driver and we came in 5th in class and 20th overall which I’m really chuffed about.

The co-drivers role is often overlooked by the motorsport media but I have now doubt that its a full team effort in and out of the rally car. I had a fantastic day and a great insight into the job. The rally also raised £2000 for the hospice.

A huge thanks to Martin Cressey and all the other co-drivers for their patience while I badgered them with questions and to the lads at Framor Garage and Mini Sport.