I missed the first few words of the call, but heard…“Will you help this young man into rallies. He needs some training as he has never driven a rally car. He is from Uganda.” The phone was still not very clear – to be honest I believe the problem lay with my ears as well, but I could not hear clearly what was said and the caller, a man called Dan, had that typical deeper “North African” even slight Hawaiian accent.

Still – typical of me, guessing half of what was expected of me, I said “yes ok”.

Rallying as is, all over Africa and especially in South Africa needs an enema, rather than an injection.

Locally the national field runs with 6 or so drivers competing for the SOUTH AFRICAN title.

No fault of the teams participating, but rather that of the people “running the show”. That is if you can call a one-man-band under candle light on a tomato box on a slightly windy night, a show.

Back on the phone – eventually, after about ten repeats, I got the new recruit’s name.

He was Rajiv Ruparelia – about 26 years old. That was all I knew.

So my job was to lay a solid basis, look for weaknesses and strong points – and if he was a natural driver with some understanding of the art of driving, I would develop him into a rally-driver.

After Rajiv and I met, we started the normal chat about rallying and when I wanted to know what he was going to rally in, he showed me a picture of a car they called a “Golf R Proto” – the picture on its own made all three hair I have left stand up as straight as they could manage!

The car was scary, and I could hardly imagine what it would be like to be driven – by me, not by an inexperienced youngster.

Please note the Golf is made familiar with a rock. It’s like potty training a baby, rally cars as rocky trained!

To be honest, because I did not know this “Proto” cars as they called it, well, I thought, maybe even hoped, that it would be a bit of a hybrid and then I did not worry any further. I was  – more concerned about the “unknown” I had to step into as always when I got into a rally car to start training someone with a little bit or without any experience.

By the way – I prefer the latter, as “little experience” usually goes with the advice of about ten family members, half baked navigators, mechanics, the preacher and his or her old schoolmaster and an ex-girlfriend’s father or brother. Usually, when a new-be or wannabe walks into an experienced driver, the latter will try to clone the new one into a duplicate of the never-was him-” or herself!

Here at Rallystar, the dice were cast – I tried to scare my new student any which way I could, telling him about, all the dangers of rallying, going off the road, hitting a precious tree and all that jazz. He did not even look worried, let alone scared when he got into the rather good looking Scooby. Now. thát scared me!

The two-litre turbo Subaru WRX STi was ready – seemingly willing and able to take on this young man from Uganda.

We started off slowly – at least Rajiv seemed to have the gear changes under control – so I waited for a second or two for the first tricky corner to come up, ready to stop him to tell him what he did wrong.

Going out on our fourth run day One

A few seconds later we were there – fifth down to fourth, third and he hit the brakes spot on, went into second and without hesitation, selected an almost perfect line into the corner and on the button applied the power and went through the corner as if he designed it, not me.

“Lucky” I thought – “pure luck!”

The corners came up, one after the other – all went very well but he was still not used to the pace notes and he relied a bit on what he saw – instead of trusting what I said.

Now remember – he knew a pace note method or two which he encountered on video games – those based on gears. My notes are based on angles. From zero to 90 degrees – and he only heard about them at the start of the course an hour or so before we started to drive,

In rallying the main thing is to be sure that the driver can visualise the notes – he must be able to “see” what was coming and – I (the navigator) needed to stay ahead of him painting the right pictures in his mind. Not ever allowing the driver to hesitate because the notes were not called on time and goodness forbid – incorrectly. So many teams stay together because of loyalty and friendship – in the end after unnecessary costs – they split up and the friendship does not get away without a mark or two.  

The driver has to listen to the calls, while executing those he heard already, make up his mind about the speed into the next corner and think how he will approach what lay ahead, check rev counter, oil pressure, engine temperature, listen for any “funny” sound, feel any possible problem like a flat wheel…while listening and absorbing the staccato of instructions rushing at him from a chatterbox navigator.

Need I say more for you to get new respect for these guys in their magic machines who have redefined multi-tasking?

As I decided he needed a talking to and I wanted to say that he had to listen to the calls and as I give them, drive the call not what he sees. He should only observe the road surface and adapt to any extraordinary thing such as a rock, rut, sand etc.

I called “seventy meters – caution Left 6 tightens to Left 8 – tight!”

Rajiv all of a sudden braked later, carrying more speed than before into that corner and I thought “Oh sheeeet – too late – he was too fast!” To crown it all, that was not the right moment to tell him that we were in trouble, as any distraction then, would have caused a much bigger problem.

Then I realised that he, for the first time since we started, decided that he “knew” what the notes meant and decided to drive on what I call, and not on what he sees.

At our third or fourth short break from driving – one thing stood out – I knew I would have to dig deep to improve his driving instantly. I knew that Rajiv required a different approach from the normal and that he was a longer term project. He needed refining rather than how to get through a corner – that he knew.

Oh yes, I can inform you about the normal procedure in my training schedule – but will not – I do have some competition you know, and I will not give my hard earned secrets away.

So what I decided and how I will manage his progress in the future remains my secret – but what I can tell you is that I will give you a top class product, not too long from now.

If the relatively young (I wish I got hold of him 6 years ago)  Rajiv Ruparelia stays humble as he is, listens and applies his talent the way I know he can and will – he will soon be running for more than a good position in rallies.

For the time being, we will aim to drive without budget killing damage to the car, and to make double sure that he has a very capable navigator next to him – that is going to be crucial – one mistake with Rativ on full attack will not be cheap and that we do not want.

This young man who runs 28 companies of the Ruparelia group will manage the rally team as he does businesses. Nobody dare go over budget!

I have given him the all clear to start his career and do, what I believe he was without doubt born for – which is to reel in anything ahead of him, but also to drive within his ability and experience and then when the moment comes – to pounce like the tiger I know he is going to be.

Good positions in the first few rallies, clean runs, developing the required skills are our aims. When the time comes – when he is totally ready we will put a toe or two through the pearly gates – where rally bravehearts thrive!

Check our first real tests in the Golf R4 all-wheel-drive – soon!

Much more to come…watch this space – but be alert – whatever it is will pass through in a blink!

Leon Botha’s email address is