The View From the Right Seat by Niall Burns – Part 2

Rally Co Driving

Since my last article for Open Paddock I received a question via email asking, “Niall what’s it feel like in the car travelling down those forest roads flat out?”


Well let me try and answer that one.


Rally Co Drivers are sometimes the unsung heros in the car, the following is a statement I read before from Ian Harden, “the driver is only a show case for awesome navigating talent”, I remind myself of this statement sometimes at the end of events where I have no voice left and the driver is surrounded by adoring fans congratulating him. The Co-Driver role I feel I should explain go’s a lot further than just calling the notes on the stages. Like drivers have the rally car to prepare for events, our rally begins once the regulations for the event are published. We are like office managers. We have to relate to the driver and crew where the event is located, times of places they need to be during the event, book hotels near the best bars in the town to keep crew chiefs happy!  So the pressure is really on us before we even step into the car. We then also have to work hard with our drivers on the pre event recce. To those who don’t know this a day before the event we are allowed drive the rally stages at road speed with our Jemba notes to familiarise ourselves with the stages and conditions. This is a very important part of the rally preparation as the next time we see these stages we will be flat out so noting any corners of particular danger or putting in braking points can make all the difference come the rally. You may say, “dude I only want to know what it is like flying through the Concord Pond stage of the New England Rally flat in 6th gear!”  Don’t worry I am getting there! Its only when the above tasks I have mentioned are completed satisfactory that you can actually go flat out on the stages in my opinion. Once your car and notes are well prepared it automatically gives you the confidence, to quote Adam Yeoman here “push like f@uck!!”. It makes me personally feel a lot more confident when you are flying down tree lined roads at over 100mph.


You are on the start line of the stage and the driver asks you for the 10th time “are you sure you turned on the go-pros?”  Yes BK989 I am referring to you here!! You open your pacenote book to the start of the relevant stage and have one hand on your stop watch ready to hit start. The time keeper counts you down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! Now the fun begins.


You start calling notes, while your gripping your pacenote book for dear life.  You look up to make sure what you’ve called matches what the driver is turning into. On fast sections with lots of jumps, you are counting them to make sure you are ready to raise your voice for the one he/she must back off on as there is a left 3 after it, which indicates a slow third gear corner. Your palms are sweaty as you turn the page and look at all the 6s, which indicates sixth gear high speed corners ahead and you must time your calls perfectly with the increased speed of the car. A note called to soon may force a driver to break early costing time, on the other hand a note called to late may put the car off the road costing a lot of damage to the car and possibly you as the Co–Driver, depending on the driver’s temperament!! If you attack a jump too hard the car steps out on landing and slides sideways down the road in 5th gear,  you brace as your driver tries to correct it and try your best to calmly keep calling the next few corners trusting your driver’s ability behind the wheel.  The heart rate is through the roof at this point. Once that moment has been successfully corrected you breathe a sigh of relief and you give your driver a word of praise such as: “well held sir!” (sorry that’s the Irish coming out of me!!). As you approach the flying finish of the stage you stop your stop watch as you cross the line, the heart beat tends to start returning to normal, the pacenote book go’s back in the bag and you get your finish time for the stage, then it’s on to the next one.  And that’s a stage in the life of a Co-Driver.


Once the car is handling well, and the notes are flowing the way the driver wants and the times are there, it’s the best feeling in the world. When you are with a driver who is committing fully to your calls, pulling 6th gear approaching blind jumps trusting you are spot on with your call it is an awesome and sometimes nerve wrecking experience. There are the moments when you put the pacenote book over your eyes as you don’t want to see what happens next or the moments on the Bonfire Alley stage of Sno-Drift when you hope this car finds grip soon or were into that fire or worse a group of spectator’s beer!!  But all in all it’s a fantastic experience to be in the right seat and I urge anyone who may be reading this who would like to try it give it a go.


Hope this answers your question and again if you guys have any more I will do my best to get round to answering them. You can follow me through my social media links in the meantime and hope to see you all at 100 Acre.



Massive thanks again to Naill Burns, international co-driver for his insight from the right seat!  Niall recently announced that he’s not only competing here in the states when he can, but committed to co-drive the entire South African Rally Championship as well, this in addition to local events he’s been doing in Ireland.  He’s a busy boy!


You can follow Niall’s exploits at these links:


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