This weekend at Rally France the Citroen World Rally Team will be fighting to get Sebastien Loeb his eighth straight World Rally Championship.

What is a Rally Driver?
by Bill Wood

Editor's Note: This is part of a series of articles on the psychology of a racecar driver. This was an article done for Sports Car Graphic magazine about twenty years ago. It deals with two of the greatest performance rally drivers in U.S. history, John Buffum and Rod Millen. Read it for what you can learn and not for the maturity of the words and enjoy the escape.

The contemporary performance rally driver has been compared to the 21st century evolution of an "old" 19th century gun fighter. The best have concentration (pronounced nerve) like velvet covered steel. It’s hard and demanding but with the soft edges of an old friend you might have known while growing up. But once that concentration is aimed down the road, it’s transfixed. Rigid. Even hypnotic.

But any rallyist has two enemies, the road and the clock. But unseen turns and non-stop clocks can end a rally just as fast as the ambush or young hired gun can end the gun fighter's career. Rally drivers and gun fighters earn the title "old."

The rallyist's driving style has also been likened to a laser. Controlled, it is surgically precise, accurate even artistic. Uncontrolled, or driven with an aggressive, undisciplined abandon, it is destructive. The line between the two is defined by the rally driver's form and personality. As it turns out, the latter is the genetic nucleus of the former.

So, what ingredients do you pull off the shelf and throw into the bowl to bake a rally driver?

You'd never guess it to watch some of them drive, but the gelatinous ooze that defines the rally driver is intelligence. Intelligence, infact, is the building block for all motorsports drivers.

Dr. Keith Johnsgard, a psychologist at San Jose State University spent several years gathering profiles on road racers and found "the dimension that separated them most clearly from the man on the street is intelligence. The average IQ for my sample of grand prix drivers, about 30 really world class drivers, was about the 94th or 95th percentile which is incredible."

Generally, Dr. Richard Lister, a practicing psychologist in Costa Mesa, California, agrees that intelligence is critical and believes those with above-average intelligence probably have better reflexes, certainly a criteria for quick response during a rally stage.

What is a Rally Driver? Part 1
In all of motorsports, there's no relationship as unique at the rally driver and co-driver. The driver gets the spotlight, like here in Australia where Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen celebrate their victory. But no one knows Jarmo's value to the team more than Mikko. One wouldn't be there without the other.
What is a Rally Driver? Part 1
For some drivers, no matter how intelligent they are, the most trying thing they do is talk with the media. What they say is on the record and in international events like the WRC, there's also the frustration of making yourself understood in lands of unknown languages.


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Saturday, October 01, 2011 4:17 PM
Great article!
Sunday, October 02, 2011 11:46 PM
Great read. Glad you guys are covering Rally - it's definitely the ultimate driver's sport and I hope it continues to grow here in The States!
Monday, October 03, 2011 8:08 AM
Yet another great rally article, Bill.
If you have the time do some research on the Group B phase of the WRC (back in the eighties, when it was the World Championship), please do. They were, without doubt, the seasons that made rallying a sport that gave us, the fans, memories that last until today.
Don't get me wrong, WRC is great, but those Group B cars were brutal and pilots had to have a great amount of faith in themselves to drive those things.
Also, for the MotoIQ tech savvy fans, the cars themselves are worth, at least, an article.
Just my 5 cents.
Bill Wood
Bill Woodlink
Monday, October 03, 2011 10:37 AM
You're absolutely right about the Group B cars. For reference, there was an article done in the 80's with F1 driver Carlos Reutemann who drove in Rally Argentina in a Group B Audi. They drove the car from 0 to 100 to 0 in less than ten seconds total. I'm pretty sure it was 100 MPH and not 100km. He said the technology in those cars matched the F1 technology available then. They were stunning cars but they were dangerous. People didn't treat them with enough respect and that's why they're gone today. I can't begin to imagine those cars and objectives with today's technology and tires. Though the lighter weight in today's WRC cars and significant horsepower available might have today's car equal in performance and not so brutal.
Tuesday, October 04, 2011 3:12 AM
Spon on.
The main difference is that with over 20 years to evolve, current WRC's while developed from an existing road car, are faster because they have better equipment chassis wise, like suspensions, transmissions, brakes and most importantly, cutting edge tyres that make up for the lost engine power from the Group B days.
Even this year's 1,6L WRC's are faster then those almost 500hp beasts.
I personally recommend a visit to Lancia's ECV site (http://www.ecv1.com/e-home.htm), for the ultimate Group B car, one that never had the chance to prove itself in racing due to sudden changes in regulations back in those days.
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