Life experiences are hard to keep count of, but when you think about those life changing and/or those ‘best day of my life’ kind of experiences, the fingers of one hand usually suffice.
In my case, I am lucky enough to do a job that I love and to be put in work-related situations that would otherwise be improbable. For instance, I get to tell that I’ve travelled Route 66 or that I’ve had the chance to drive a Lotus Exige S on a racetrack, which are all absolutely amazing memories I feel lucky to be able to call my own. However, the one story I like to tell the most is the day I randomly got to be a rally co-driver in the Newfoundland Targa. An actual, tulip-charts-reading, rally co-driver.
Life experiences have a way of changing you, forging who you are as a person. In my case, if this story hasn’t exactly changed the person I am on the inside, telling it sure makes me look like a badass.
Back then, Marc Bouchard, my managing editor at Autonet.com, was joining in the competition as the co-driver for one of the two Kia teams registered to tackle this weeklong Targa Newfoundland rally. They needed someone bilingual who knew their way around a camera and could provide social media content for Kia Canada throughout the event. Marc turned to me, about two weeks prior to the event; what else could I answer, besides “count me in!”.
I met my team on the Saturday, the day before the beginning of the event, excited, bright-eyed and ready to rock this gig. On the Sunday, the 2012 Targa Newfoundland kicked off in St. John’s with a ceremonial starting line and the Prologue legs, followed by a six-day, 2,000+ km trip across Newfounland. First, let me tell you: if you haven’t been to Newfoundland, you definitely want to go.
There are three categories and four divisions in the competition. The open, modern and classic categories are all part of the Targa Division: people that mean business. The cars are Actual. Race. Cars. Roll cages, fire extinguishers, Hans devices, body suits. All that jazz. That’s the category the Kia team was competing in. The real stuff! In the classic category, the car lineup was a real cargasm: numerous Porsches dating from the 70s, a 60-something Mustang GT 350, a selection of BMWs, and even an old Volvo station wagon! Older cars can however be a little tricky and finicky and a team from Montreal learned it the hard way.
On the second day of the rally, they ran into some problems with their blue 1979 Porsche 911 Carrera. Duo Rodrigo Herrera and John Bilikas had to take a decision. A part was required for their 911 and at that point, St. John’s already was a few hours behind, which meant they would not make it to the starting line on the Tuesday morning. Unless…
To give you some context, as we travelled across the province, our days would normally end at the local arena where the competing vehicles were washed and put on display for a meet and greet with the people of the town we would spend the night in.
After our first night away from St. John’s, the two Kia teams, the tech and myself had gathered at the Gander arena to plan out the day, Tim Horton’s coffee and muffin in hand, ready for another exciting day.
Little did I know my Tuesday was about to get even more exciting. My managing editor walked up to me, asking if I wanted to do something really cool. I’m always up for whatever, so something cool? Count me in. Without thinking twice, I answered yes, without realizing what I was getting myself into. His answer was to point at Rodrigo and to tell me he needed a copilot. Suit up. I went from barely awake to really awake in a matter of seconds. I tried not to get too excited; we had yet to get clearance from the higher authorities who had not planed on having a inexperienced and unregistered codriver dropped on their lap. It took some convincing, but they ended up bending the rules and allowing me to help a fellow Quebecer short a teammate. I never finished that coffee and that muffin.
What do you know: I did suit up. I was a nervous wreck. I had no idea what I was doing. I had a road map, my tulips charts and a GPS for distances. Rodrigo was aware that I was no John, but he somehow decided to trust me nonetheless — I have to mention here that he is also a highly experienced driver, so I think he had more faith in his own abilities to make up for my lack of experience.
It. Was. Awesome. I normally get carsick as a passenger, I get headaches from the g-forces when I drive cars on tracks and somehow, that one time, I was so high on adrenaline that I never felt better doing what I was doing. The first two legs of the morning went smoothly: I was getting a hang of this and thanks to some previous advice from members of other teams who were nice enough to tip me off on how to plan my calls, we were even doing pretty well. However, on the third leg, I messed up. The GPS was our tool to calculate the distances. The distance I had displayed on the screen matched the distances of the different bends and checkpoints in my road book. At 1.1 km, there’s a 90-degree bend, 2.4 km in, there’s a bridge, etc. Critical information the driver relies on in order to maintain an efficient and competitive speed while knowing ahead of time what’s to come: the codriver is the all-seer. So you can understand my panic when I realized I forgot to reset the GPS to 0 km as we took the third start of the day. The GPS was behind a few hundred meters, which messed up all my calculations and kept me from being able to call the shots ahead of time. Having to tell the guy driving a Porsche at 200 km/h on a wet country road that you don’t know what’s coming ahead is terrifying. I felt really, really small in my suit.
Rodrigo was a lifesaver. His experience and his knowledge of his car kept us from running into any real trouble. One bend was taken a little too enthusiastically, which sent us waltzing on the wet tarmac. Rodrigo handled it like the pro he is and it almost felt like the dance had been planned.
After four legs, my body gave up. I was exhausted and famished and had to walk away. At the end of the day, Rodrigo shared with me his times for the morning and despite my critical lack of knowledge of the role of codriver, the team received very little time penalty (every second over the allotted time to complete a leg is added to the time penalty). All I could remember was my screw up, despite Rodrigo enthusiastically telling me that I had done great. In the end, I was glad they hadn’t been penalized for trusting me.
When I first sat in the Porsche’s Recaro seat, I asked myself what I had done. Four years later, I know why I did it and the proof is that it remains, to date, one of the coolest, awesomest experience of my life.