From fan to co-driver: Learning from a rally legend

In the first article of RallyJournals's new feature "From fan to co-driver," our reporter Eemeli Aho explains the "official" steps an aspiring driver or co-driver must take before heading to special stages.
From fan to co-driver
Co-driving legend Timo Hantunen (back left) introduces trainees to the secrets of pace noting. Photo: Eemeli Aho
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There are surely many people like me in Finland and around the world who have dreamt of competing in rallying since childhood. For a long time, my dream remained just that – a dream. I didn’t know how to act on it.

Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally given space to this dream and found myself searching for information about starting a rally hobby, specifically as a co-driver, on the AKK (Finnish motorsport organisation) website.

Every time, my sometimes quickly bored mind has been frustrated by the difficulty of finding information, and my dream has been prolonged. The fact that no one in my immediate circle has been involved in rallying beyond spectating has also contributed to this delay. I had no mentor or someone to take me along.

I’m willing to bet my Rally Finland pass that many readers of this article are in a similar limbo.

Eventually, I grew tired of this endless thought experiment and decided to change my dream from “someday” to “soon.” I was finally ready to do whatever it took to pursue my passion in this beloved sport from a spectator’s perspective.

After searching for information, I created a task list to follow so I would be ready to participate in rally competitions. I’ll share that list now to make starting rallying as clear as possible for you.

The First Steps and Qualifications for Competitions

First, I joined a motorsport club. Coming from Laukaa, my choice was easy. I filled out an online membership application form for the Laukaa Motor Club. The membership fee was 50 euros, and after paying it, I received my personal ID number. This number would be my “social security number” in motorsport. Almost every municipality in Finland has a motorsport club, so there’s plenty of choice.

Next, I had to pass the rally examination. With my ID number and a valid club membership, I registered on the AKK’s KITI system’s training and examinations page to take the basic rally examination. The basic rally examination is a one-day course that provides the participant with the qualifications to participate in rally competitions. The basic examination is valid for five years.

In the basic examination, we learned about the course of a competition, how to read a roadbook and fill in a time card, studied the occasionally complex rulebook, and got acquainted with the rally driver’s equipment and the FIA standards required for them.

The basic examination cost 50 euros, and after completing the multiple-choice test at the end of the examination, I was ready to start competitions – but only in non-pacenoted, or “blind,” rallies.

The roadbook, time card, and driving gear become familiar in the basic examination. Photo: Eemeli Aho

Notes and Competitor’s License

As I mentioned in the series’ introduction article, I wanted to dive straight into the deep end as a co-driver and read real pace notes. To do this, I had to take an additional examination besides the basic one.

That is the continuation of the rally examination, the pace note examination. Its purpose is to teach the basics of the note language and terminology used in rallies and to provide a clear scale for describing the severity of corners.

I was fortunate to learn from an experienced co-driver, as legendary co-driver Timo Hantunen held the examination at Printsport’s premises in Lievestuore.

Hantunen’s stories about rallies in the 1970s and ’80s made the pace note examination a memorable experience. Rallying has changed “slightly” since those days. Nowadays, navigation is done using a roadbook; in the old days, they used a large map with the rally route traced on a piece of wax paper. Try navigating with that in -30°C during the Arctic Rally in Lapland.

While the basic examination involved just sitting in a classroom, the continuation examination allowed us to get hands-on. After a couple of hours of theory, we moved to the famous Ruuhimäki roads for pace note practice, done similarly to an actual competition. First, we drove the road once, and the driver dictated the notes to me, which I wrote down in the pace note book.

Next, we did a “verification run,” a second pass, where I read the notes I had written down, and we made necessary changes. Instructor Hantunen was in the car both times, assessing our performance. He deemed our skills to be at the required level, granting me the qualification to participate in pace-noted rallies. The pace note examination does not expire, so it doesn’t need to be retaken every five years like the basic examination.

To register for a rally, I also needed a competitor’s license. The license is also purchased through the AKK’s KITI system, costing 120 euros. The appropriate license for me is a national license, as I will only participate in national rallies this season, such as the F-Cup rounds, the Vetomies competition that is driven alongside with Rally Finland, and possibly some Finnish Championship rallies or other AKK events.

Overall, the costs are relatively low. The motorsport club membership, basic examination, pace note examination, and license totaled 300 euros.

In the next part of the series, I’ll talk about pace noting and its practice. Make sure to follow’s social media channels, as my first competition is the F-Cup round in Mynämäki on Saturday, June 8th. I’ll be reading notes for Jarmo Vesterinen, who will be driving a BMW M3, and I’ll be updating our progress on our social media channels!

You can read all the articles in the “From fan to co-driver” series here!

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