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THE BIGGEST FACTOR MOST RALLY DRIVERS IGNORE…

“Perception” is the way you think about someone or something. It is also formed by what you understand through your five senses – touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.

 Colour is added to your perception of things, by your past experiences, feelings and thoughts.

So, what does this have to do with driving and especially driving a rally car at YOUR limits and when you get very, very good – drive at the car’s limits?

Through my almost 20 years involvement with Rallystar and my 53 years of being actively involved in rallying and motorsport in general I have learned one thing,  and in a way, I believe I have almost perfected the application of it – and that is that rallying and racing, like most other sports, are much more psychologically driven and dependent on that,  than most people realise. It is much more of a “Head-game” than most participants realise.  

On the training side, it is easy to make a slow driver quicker, but when you sit in a car with an excellent driver behind the steering wheel and you have to determine where he or she loses time, things become quite complicated for me. 

I often catch me saying, (softly to myself) “where the hell lies this one’s weakness – corners are great, gear selection almost perfect, lines perfect… What the hell do I say when this run is over and most of all, how do I get him/her to go quicker?”

Then I apply my own philosophy – “look for the head stuff, find the places where this driver has programmed his mind incorrectly – what and how does he see things differently to how I see them? What does he think that I do not think? 

Most important is not to try and clone anyone into a Leon Botha – but to respect his/her perception of speed, the severity of jumps, corners, dips, jumps and all other applicable factors.

Then when I replay the stage or section in my mind, the seconds lost start popping up in my head – so many small things – such a big influence on that end time through every stage!

This is so important and is screwed up by so many “advisors” who with only a little respect – have not got a clue. They do not understand the philosophy of the game, the mind and will never get the end result drivers strive for.

How many times have I heard true champions give advice to youngsters, telling them how they, the champions, do it – how they go through specific corners, or how they drove through dust or mist or on the wet.

I have dealt with youngsters who have been influenced by so many “experts” that they stuff up what ability they had as well.

If I hear “but Charlie the such and so champion said….” or “my uncle who was a rally driver showed me…” my eyes fill with tears… and when the father was a renowned rally driver, then I know my chance to fail has arrived. The kid’s head is so full of dad that there is no space left for junior’s own development.

This sport has almost lost two of the best drivers I have handled – the one I only got one chance – but I managed to get some of the important basics through to him before every Tom, Big Dick and Harry took over. In their eyes I was too slow in my progress which were decided after the first session. I did not teach him left-foot-braking, the Jewish click and the Swedish flick during the first session.

Every prediction I made came true – it took the kid almost three seasons to find his feet and get into the vehicle and discipline where he belonged.

I was sad to lose the opportunity to set him up for his career, but after an unnecessary battle where at times I thought he prematurely reached the end of his career  – he came through like I knew he would. 

I have to mention here – that I once made a bad mistake when I did the initial assessment on one of the best drivers I have met.

Why?

Well you see, I missed one of his strongest characteristics – he had respect for my car and did not want to break or damage it – but said NOTHING!

I simply could not work out why his lines, his timing, vehicle control and coordination with the car were almost perfect, yet he lacked the faith to believe in himself (so I believed) and he stayed “slow”.

The story goes that I said he drove like an “old maid” – I can truly not remember having said that, but I did not see any “killer instinct” and told his father that.

I can imagine the sadness, disappointment and frustration – the late Chad von Beurden became one of the best drivers I knew and if the bones fell better for him, I have no doubt that he would have made it big time. RIP – champ.

Thank goodness I have not made the same mistake more often and  was lucky enough to have been able to predict the futures for quite a number of juniors coming through the ranks.

Back to the training part. 

Once I have the driver at a level where I am satisfied that seat time will grow the habits I have planted or then programmed into his mind and that the improvement on the strong points would eliminate the mistakes, then it is time to look at the most important factor inside the car, after the driver.

 

The NAVIGATOR/ CO-DRIVER 

Some of you who are also about a hundred years old will remember that when I won the N4 championship in 2002 participating only in five from eight rallies while I used five different navigators if I include a regional rally I did in Natal.

Many people ask me why I did that and my answer was simple – “I wanted to prove that navigators did not play any role in South African rallies except to clock in and keep the driver on the right route. The second reason was to eliminate the advantage of teams who were driving with illegal pace notes!” 

Then with the motivation and help of Visser du Plessis and a few other people I started pleading for a “pace note” system in South Africa. This was when I met an incredible friend and mentor in rallying and life, Bill Sturrock – who came from Scotland to teach me how to do the notes, which I then handled for ten years without missing an event.

I will tell the rest of my story around the notes in my book that will appear later this year – but need to say that with the introduction of pace notes or, route notes as we know them, the navigator’s role in success stories shot up from almost nil to as high as 70% in some of the top teams.

To determine what influence the navigator has is not easy.

The first and foremost thing you need to determine is the driver’s needs, his habits, what he is comfortable with and how to read the notes to him. You need to understand how his/her head works!

Don’t ever believe that what he or she wants is the end of the story. They have also been influenced by the cousin of the uncle of a navigator who sat with “old Jan” – Who? Jan Hettema? “No Jan Boshoff!… but he knew oom Jan Hettema”. 

 

Do you get the drift? 

Once you have synchronised the driver’s style with how the notes should be handled, then you have a fair chance to make a dramatic improvement inside that car.

Once you get the navigator’s side of the car firing on all four you are on your way to earning your fee. 

There are more problems to solve, but the big one is that almost all teams miss the importance of a navigator – even those who do the disrespectful thing – which is to rally for fun.

Feckit man – how “for fun” can things be when you do something only because you have a few Rand to waste?   Rather go out, get drunk and give the biggest guy in the bar a lekker sexual smack, then throw out his beer over his head!  That is what doing something for fun is all about! 

Allow me to help you get the definition of rallying right; Rallying is you (which is your entire team) and your car against time, the road and the weather. If you don’t want to take on the challenge then … get out because you are going to get hurt, financially and physically.

Secondly – very few navigators will take the initiative to train and get their act together – even when someone else pays for it. When I listen to some in-car voices my admiration for the driver increases a bit when I realise that the poor guy is actually on his own. What I can not understand is that many do not get rid of a navigator who does not fit into the whole picture. The excuse that you do not get many good navigators does not hold much water and the worst one is; “But old Charlie has put R150 into the budget and he is my friend!” Oh my dearest dear… 

When “training” some navigators who have been navigating a while, I take them with me over a stage to rad the notes and I can often not believe what I hear and see. They mostly lack understanding of what really needs to be done and especially the serious consequences of not doing it right.  This always makes me think of the time when my navigator on a National Championship rally had more than a page of the notes on the stage left when we shot through the flying finish.  This almost equals the time I navigated for someone while checking the stage and notes, and I said “Charlie – I have to make changes here and there on the notes and roadbook. Do not carry on when you do not get instructions. Long story short – he drove for six kilometres without me saying a single word. He was completely mesmerized by the road ahead of him – I could check the motes but did not read any to him. When I eventually shouted ‘STOP!’ he almost wrote the car off! 

More often than not the navigation is simply not on par with the driver and he/she loses valuable time by having to drive blind or hesitantly as if there are no notes available. The only problem is mostly training and getting to know the driver’s needs.

When notes are delivered too early or even worse – too late, this causes hesitation from the driver (which is understandable under those circumstances) while every hesitation costs you 0.5 seconds minimum. Twenty hesitations on a 10km stage equals 10 seconds, and that is the difference between winning and not.  

HE/SHE WHO HESITATES IS LOST – Swift and resolute action leads to success; self-doubt is a prelude to disaster and many, many accidents are caused by a lack of coordination between driver and navigator.

What most people do not understand is that every driver differs. The style, the needs, the required inspiration from whoever is in charge of the team needs to be customised to suit him. 

A navigator must know the driver so well that he can predict what the Hothead will do next.

He must be able to read the body language, saying the right thing at the right time, or simply keep quiet and allow the mood to change, until the window of reason opens again.

 The service and support crews also play a crucial part. Always leave outside influences and factors (brakes) at home!  

I have seen a wife on a broom screw up a whole team’s efforts because she was not enjoying the day.

 I have seen team manager’s attitudes make serious chunks in their budgets because they do not have a clue how to handle a driver or whole team for that matter. I had a team manager who accused me of going off the road during an event while he forgot that his idea of a champion, tested in my car the week before – going off big time!  

When I denied it, he told me I was lying – forking big mistake – but then I was the “difficult” person and he remained the untouchable. That rally, I think I broke the car on the pull-away on the first stage after travelling all the way to Cape Town!

Maybe he should have concentrated on doing his work instead of looking for excuses for the worst car I have ever driven. Do you see the importance of knowing each other>  

Then I have also seen teams going against good advice – ending their rather promising careers there and then! 

  

Rallying is my life – it is my game – this is what I do – “unfortunately” mostly for foreigners, instead of for local competitors.

The international guys seem to acknowledge the fact that they need to polish their acts – and that a proper rally driver learns something new every kilometre he drives. Every tip, every bit of useful information contributes towards posting better times – and better times are what makes up rallying.     

Unfortunately for me and maybe some competitors, my time being able to do this is running out!  It does not feel like it, but it will be silly to try and keep my neck stiff on every gear change for another 30 years.

The fact that South Africa is the only country with only “world champions” with perfect driving skills participating, explains why most of my students are from Europe and up North in Africa, but maybe, just maybe I will be able to help you get through stages (much) quicker than what you currently do.

My training courses are only available on a one-on-one basis, simply because every driver is unique in what he or she needs and every approach is  different. 

I will only start selling the book that tells you all about the Art of Real Driving once I decide to hang up my gloves or when they read my testament with nothing more on it than me being able to drive a motorcar, so if you are interested:- 

  • to get yourself through stages quicker and safer –
  • to really start enjoying rallying and racing – yes and normal road driving, better, or  
  • to make it more affordable to rally by saving on unnecessary repair costs, and 
  • in winning a championship or at least stand a chance to do it –

then you know what to do. 

Rallystar will probably have to move away from its current tracks at the Carousel where I managed to perfect all the corners that you will get on almost any rally, in the next year or so, so do yourself a favour and use this opportunity we still have at the present tracks.

With the COVID-19 pandemic hanging over everything we do, I do not know what lies ahead and neither do you – so at least make sure that in 2020 you at least learn a few things you don’t know yet! So book now to get your place. 

Please do not even contact me if you are part of a circus – where people who know absolutely nothing try to teach you the tricks of the incredible art of driving and you listen to every Tom, Charlie and Mario.

I have seen a number of great efforts go down the tubes – usually “gat oor kop” (arse over end) – right out of the sport because the driver listened to an Einstein who could not even navigate or service properly, let alone drive a car. 

So if you are serious – get your car as good as you can – bring your crew with to do what needs to be done during our session – but leave the has-been “Mario Andrettis“ and wannabe “motorsport fundis” where they belong – at home!

Rallying is first and foremost, a team sport made up of you, the co-driver, the car, the service crew, your supporters and your mentor(s). 

If you would like to “do it for fun” (the most hated phrase in my book) then rent the track and enjoy yourself and don’t come and ask me “Oom Leon what do you think?” 

The only thing Oom Leon now thinks about, is that he better start making money from sport – as time is few!

Quotations can be obtained – we run two sessions per day and do not do more than three over two days.

We do not train local drivers in our cars. We assess their abilities, determine the strong and weak points and then work out the way forward. 

Training can be done over weekends as well, but we prefer weekdays. 

Accommodation can be organised. 

Contact me directly on leon@rallystar.co.za or 082 555 3119 to discuss your situation.