I’ll be honest, my co-driving career didn’t get off to the best of starts. And, if I’m going to continue in that vein of honesty, it hasn’t exactly gone from strength to strength since. I’ve always enjoyed myself in the co-driver’s seat, I just haven’t been asked back often. Ever.
My debut in a proper car with a proper driver was with David Higgins (he’s won the British Championship once and the American title on many occasions) on the 2000 Kent Forestry Rally. I think that’s what it was called. And I think that’s the year.
The event, in the south of England, was sponsored by the same firm which ran Higgins’ Subaru Impreza WRX in the British series. The plan was for him and I to do the event as a bit of promotion for Barretts Subaru and David. And, anyway, there was no pressure, he’d won the event for the previous three years and it was just a bit of fun.
Unfortunately, I’d been rostered to cover the Cambrian Rally the previous day. For those less familiar with British rallying geography, the Cambrian’s base in Llandudno is not exactly close to Kent.
I arrived in the middle of the night and rose after a couple of hours sleep ready to guide Higgins through the woods. I’d done a bit of testing here and there and the odd club event, but nothing really prepared me for how serious the whole thing was. Serious and fast.
In short, I offered nothing. I counted David down from five to one, forgot to say go and then forgot to press start on my stopwatch. Fortunately he had the good sense to go without waiting for confirmation from me.
He did, however, look a touch bemused when I asked him what sort of time he thought he’d done for the stage when we crossed the finish line and he asked what the stopwatch read. It was either that or, er, ‘00.00.000.’
Things improved through the day and I managed the odd instruction and the odd piece of guidance. Despite my innate lack of ability, we were leading by miles and cruising towards a glorious victory when David was caught out by a tightening right over crest.
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This might have been the tightening right I was supposed to mention to him shortly before we slid into a ditch and tucked the Subaru’s left-rear wheel back into the arch.
We got out the ditch and dragged the car to the finish. Out of the stage and onto the road, David asked me to find somewhere discreet to hide the car. I thought he was taking his embarrassment a little bit far, but it turned out we were planning a bit of illegal service.
An hour or so later, our wheel appeared to have fixed itself and we were back on the road. That was when I made the mistake of asking David how he picked himself back up after that sort of thing. What followed were 15 or so of the most breathtaking minutes of my life as he tore through the Kent woods at warp-factor 10.
“That’s how,” he grinned at the finish.
My latest run in a rally car came in February, when I co-drove Ian Gwynne in the very Subaru Legacy RS Colin McRae used to finish second on the 1992 Swedish Rally, now the property of DirtFish owner Steve Rimmer.
Snowed under with typing, I was late getting to the start of the Chester Rally Revival. Ian seemed to have everything under control, but looked slightly exasperated when – in the bar shortly after my arrival – I asked if I’d missed anything earlier on.
“Just the ceremonial start…”
Oops. Never mind. We didn’t get lost. And I did get a nice selfie…
Again, I haven’t been asked back.