Victorian co-driver, Tracey Dewhurst, has travelled the world calling pacenotes for many different drivers.
We asked her to reflect on her career so far, and asked how she got started in the great sport of rallying.
RSM: Let's great straight into it. You've been co-driving for over 25 years, what's your favourite memory from all the events you've done?
Tracey: How do you choose one memory after 25 years in this great sport that takes us to so many different places, meeting so many people from all over the world?
I still recall stages on the WIN TV Rally in the Valley which is still one of my favourite Victorian events.
The 2014 Arctic Rally is possibly my most treasured rally experience. That, along with racing through the outskirt streets of Daun, Germany, feeling we were back in Group B times at the Eiffel Rallye Festival. And those crazy crests of Ouninpohja in Neste Rally Finland.
The incredible Otago Rally is one of the rally bucket list events for every rally driver, and standing on the podium at European Rally championship Lahti Rally with fellow Aussie driver Darryn Snooks.
There are just too many memories.
Taking to the air in the Forest Rally with WA driver Mick Steele. Photo: John Doutch
So let's take step back. What got you involved in rallying, as even today, it's not the norm for a female to decide that rallying is their chosen sport?
I was brought up around speedway tracks with most of the males in my family racing nearly every second weekend somewhere in Australia. So the environment wasn’t foreign to me, but my introduction to rallying started with some friends who were rallying and they invited me along one day to a VCRS round.
After a few weekends of road tripping with them, I was asked if I’d be interested to navigate and decided I’d give it a try. It’s been in the blood ever since.
Who were, and are, the guiding influences in your motorsport career?
I’ve actually never considered myself in a motorsport career, but I’m a pretty competitive person by nature. Early on I really loved watching not only what drivers and co-drivers did differently, but service crews, whole teams to make things easier, more successful, teams like Pedders Suspension.
Early on, rallying for me was 99% Victorian based, so names that still stick in my mind having an influence on how they put their events together were Victorian based drivers like Graeme Wise, Scott and Mark Pedder, Cody Crocker and Greg Folleta.
I learnt, however, to navigate from David Rowe, who was my very first driver.
Dewhurst with Viv Dilkes-Frayne on a dusty Akademos Rally. Photo: John Doutch
Watching the world class drivers Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Ari Vatanen only speared our passion for this sport more.
More recently, some important names I would say I’ve looked up to, learnt from and are some of Australia’s favourite co-drivers are Matt Lee, Ben Searcy, Rhianon Gelsomino and Kate Officer. They have certainly been influences or inspiration, as well as people like John Carney, Grant Walker and their whole teams at Dogbox, Printsport and M-Sport.
During the last six or so years I headed to WA to gain more on-event pacenote experiance, and this essentially started my way of adapting to other drivers quickly, both in gravel rallying and on tarmac.
Before this, I was generally rallying only with one or two drivers, so to get more experience it was a good learning curve.
Most recently, I have had incredible opportunities overseas to work with and alongside WRC co-drivers Sabrina Di Castello, Dominique Savignoni, Vincent Landais and Pierre Louis Loubet, and with some very well respected teams and principles has been so valuable. The more I can look back, this list becomes quite large.
We learn at every rally really, inside the car, watching copious amounts of YouTube video, servicing, the unfortunate accidents.
Every aspect can teach you, and as long as you give it a go, you find your own style and the value it brings to the teams I work with.
Over 25 years the sport has evolved in many ways. From your side of the car, what have been the most significant changes to the sport.
$$$. The sport has become out of reach of many, which is all a snowball effect really.
It’s increasingly difficult to engage companies for sponsorship in today’s climate, which has really seen some amazing drivers and co-drivers unable to fully reach their potential due to lack of funding.
Safety measures have changed enormously over the years. The addition of RallySafe has been nothing but positive.
You have quite a unique record, in that you have competed overseas many, many times, with different drivers. Tell us a bit about those experiences?
Okay, I’ll try to keep it short! Ha ha, but it’s been such a great story really.
A question I’ve been asked many times or from drivers and co-drivers in Australia is how I got an opportunity initially. The first time was simply from being curious.
I jumped on a plane after being on holiday and realising there was a rally in the Arctic Circle in Finland. My curiosity meant I came back to Australia and researched it and planned my return to this country. The Arctic Rally was my destination this time.
Funnily enough, it was my accent that started the conversation in Rally HQ in the capital of Lapland Finland, that led to the next level and experiences in this great sport.
Co-driver for Joel Wald in his classic Datsun Stanza. Photo: John Doutch
In short, from that week, I learnt one of the biggest lessons in life – “nothing is out of reach”. I had a choice that week to sit back and watch this event OR say “I’ll give it a go”.
It was a great lesson to learn and adapt quickly.
Ironically, in my normal work life, I work in the art industry and my first experience was recce for Claude Picasso – son of Pablo Picasso.
Following on from this, I was asked to co-drive for Dominique Savignoni, a WRC co-driver. I was so nervous to co-drive for someone who is a professional co-driver and his incredible experience, co-driving for Francois Delecour, as an example.
I had to quickly adapt to how I read to a driver whose first language was French, and we competed in English. It’s funny watching the in-car and my “new found” French/Aussie accent so no note was misunderstood.
I was also brought in to teach a US crew new to notes and to a snow rally. So my week was really busy.
It then snowballs, pardon the pun.
Some Australian drivers who were keen to live the dream of competing overseas made contact, which then moved into some summer Finnish events, sub events of Neste Rally. This continued into a large project of four events last year in Europe with Australian driver Darryn Snooks, shipping his car all the way to Europe where we competed in Midnight Sun Rally in Sweden, Eiffel Rallye Festival in Germany, Vetomies Rally in Finland and Lahti Historic Rally.
Amongst this was the numerous NZ events with Grant Walker for the Otago Rally and Westland Rally. I would do the whole NZ championship if I could.
Over the years, so many people have been part of my rally story, and they have all played a part in shaping my rallying career and experience .
The Otago Rally is one of Tracey's favourites. Here she is with Grant Walker. Photo: John Doutch
Of all those events, the Arctic Lapland Rally sounds like the most unique. What extra challenges do those conditions throw up for a co-driver?
After a few Arctic rallies, some things to bear in mind for anyone wishing to do it would be
to be prepared to use a shovel, and try to eliminate any need to relieve yourself in the forest! With generally one metre of snow to get through before you can get some privacy, it’s not too easy.
An obvious safety aspect is a warm clothing kit in case you get stuck out in the forest. At minus 20 it is not great to be stuck waiting for the sweep car.
Luckily for co-drivers, we are allowed to wear snow boots (with the expectation that it’s co-drivers who are out shovelling away the snow if you get stuck in a snow bank.
The Arctic Rally is four days of recce, 2.5 days of rally. In Australia we are used to long events, but with extreme winter conditions, and only a few hours of daylight, most of the rally is at night and it can be extremely tiring for a lot of crews not used to those conditions.
John Carney and Tracey Dewhurst in last year's Rally of the Heartland. Photo: John Doutch
You've had a close relationship with one of Victoria's most popular rally figures, John Carney, who's been a real mentor for many competitors in the sport. Tell us a bit about your involvement with John.
John Carney and the Gunnawyn Motorsport team are, and have been, some of my most memorable times.
When I joined this team about four years or so ago, with John’s lifelong experience in rallying, I gained valuable new skills learning from him and his team expectations.
He is undoubtedly a valuable mentor to many, including myself. John Carney and his loyal team continue to be involved in many and various levels of rallying throughout the country.
His experience working with Evans Motorsport has undoubtedly helped shape his own team expectations.
He is one of the great people of this sport that I highly admire and respect.
Aussie co-driver, Tracey Dewhurst, has put together an impressive co-driving CV. Photo: John Doutch
We've all been hit hard by COVID-19. What have you been up to during the lockdown, and have you been able to keep working (and where)?
Yes what a crazy time... It’s been a particularly sore subject when I look at my planner and keep crossing out all the plans we had for the year.
Myself and Grant Walker were in NZ and had just completed our first rally of the yea , Westland Rally, when we heard the news of lockdown.
We were all so naive back in March, still continuing to plan and prepare for the Otago and beyond really. Little did we consider how much this would effect, and for so long.
Regardless, in hindsight it has been the forced break of a busy rallying year around the world / fitting in a full-time position to step back and take the break. I actually needed to reset and when all is well, there is so much on this list to get back to
Right now, we all need to do our part so we can crush this and get back to what we love doing.
Once the rally season is up and running again, what are your plans for the remainder of 2020, and looking into 2021?
There are two or three possible events on the cards for the remainder of 2020 if they proceed. They will be in Victoria.
Certainly all planning is still on for 2021, but with a realistic approach as some events are in Europe and NZ, so we will have to see. But certainly, I’ll be eager to get back to rallying as soon as we can.
Mick Steele and Tracey Dewhurst being watched closely in the Forest Rally in WA. Photo: John Doutch
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