Being a professional co-driver is a life full of long-haul flights, different time zones, long days of reconnaissance and lightning fast special stages.
For Sydney’s Dale Moscatt though, 2020 has been a year like no other. As he prepares to fly to Estonia for the next round of the World Rally Championship, he’s looking forward to getting back to doing what he does best.
Oh, and getting tested for COVID-19, and quarantining, and getting tested, and getting tested some more …
Peter Whitten chatted to Moscatt as he prepares to leave the country – something very few other Aussies are currently allowed to do.
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RSM: You’re competing in Estonia with a local driver, Karl Kruuda, in a Volkswagen Polo R5. Have you rallied in Estonia before?DM: I've tested there. Actually, the first test I did with Evgeny Novikov was not far from where the rally is. I've been to that area and I sort of know the condition of the roads and what to expect I guess.
RSM: It's going to be pretty fast rally, I'd imagine.DM: Yeah, and the roads aren't exactly the same as last year. The character of the roads is obviously still the same because it's not a huge country, but most of the roads are fairly similar in nature.
RSM: So, tell me about the process of actually getting over there. Obviously there's lots of hurdles, and you’re one of only a few Australians currently allowed to leave the country.DM: It was a bit difficult actually. I had planned to do Targa Great Barrier Reef the same weekend as Estonia. Then I had the Sunraysia Safari in Mildura the week after that. So, to go and do this event means it's a two week quarantine when I get back. So essentially, you're taking four weeks away for a 23Okm rally.
It sounds absolutely ridiculous, and in some ways it is. But look, we had to look at the situation and try and pre-empt what was going to happen. Obviously I wanted to go over and do it(the rally) with Karl, but I didn't want to leave him in the situation where he didn't have a co-driver at the last minute because we couldn't make it happen either.
It just seems that everything changed every second day at the moment, do we made the right call.
We met, we spoke to some people and found out what I needed to do. Essentially, the only way I can get permission to travel is to seek an exemption. There's very, very strict rules and ways you can go about getting an exemption. You can’t go unless you're a healthcare worker with an official invitation from overseas to go over and work, or you have a direct family member who's terminally ill.
Other than that, it's very, very limited.
I sought an exemption under the act of international interest. Because I'm an Australian competing for Australia in a world championship level event, then it's considered of national interest.
I do some work as an ambassador for Rally Australia, so we've got some meetings with Simon Larkin and some of those guys with the WRC Promoters over there as well.
I had a nice letter from the WRC Promoter, and Eugene Arocca at Motorsport Australia has been absolutely fantastic. He wrote a letter to go with my application, to say that it is a big deal for me to be over there.
All those things add up together. I also had a letter from my accountant, basically saying ‘Can you give the guy a chance and let him go and earn some money?’
Moscatt and Kruuda won when they last competed together at the Longyou Rally in China at the end of 2018.
RSM: I guess as a professional co-driver, it’s been a pretty tough year for you?DM: I won't go through the actual figures. It’s not because I don't want to tell you, but it'll make me cry! It's been a horrendous year financially, and I know there's people that are worse off than me.
I'm a glass half full sort of person. I do have a lot of other qualifications and skills, so we've been able to make ends meet, but not in the ways that we normally would.
RSM: Australia’s JobKeeper program must have come in handy then.DM: My business is no different to any other business, and there's no problems at all proving that I've lost more than 30% of my income. So that's a fairly easy one to achieve.
But I'm not the sort of person that just sits around on my hands either. I'd much prefer to be out there working. I've got friends with businesses that need help as well at this time. So I've been able to go and do some work and actually helped a friend start a new business, then retrained myself with a new skill as well.
While this COVID thing's been going on, I guess one thing it did show me is that I had a fair amount of my eggs in one basket.
As I said, I have some other skills and trade qualifications, but I've relied on rallying for so long now. I think I sort of made this a full time professional thing about 2004.
So we've based a whole lot of my life and our financial situation around rallying, which you could probably say was fairly stupid. And that was even before COVID, but it's been a difficult year that's for sure.
RSM: It must make you feel pretty good though, to be considered an Australian ambassador, and to go over there and represent the country in a WRC event?DM: Yeah. I think I've always taken a fair bit of pride in that. I remember when I was with Evgeny and was the only Australian in a factory team over there, it sort of was a big deal. I also had a lot of help and support from everybody back home.
So I've always considered it to be representing your country, even though, I guess on a personal level, it's not like a team Olympic style of thing. There's events happening all the time, all around the world and anyone can go and represent their country. But I think it is a big deal. Certainly at that level.
When I did Dakar it was only Toby (Price) and myself that year. You get a lot of attention around it because most people around the world like Australians, and think we’re likable sort of people. I feel very proud to carry the Australian flag, and have certainly been fortunate enough to wave it up on the podium at some rallies as well over the years. I take a lot of pride in that.
Karl Kruuda is looking forward to driving in front of his home fans in a WRC round. Photo: Jaanus Ree
RSM: As you said, when you get over there, there's obviously pretty strict regulations as far as social distancing and testing are concerned. They're pretty much going to be ongoing from the minute you arrive, to the minute you leave.DM: Yes. It's a bit of a headache to be perfectly honest. It's essential and I've got no problems with sticking to all of it, because I think it's certainly in the best interests of everyone.
I'm not the sort of person that says it's taking away any of my rights, freedoms or any of that sort of rubbish. I'm into doing whatever you have to do for the greater good of everyone, that's for sure.
But it's quite difficult because most of these things are being made up fairly quickly, and when you actually try to apply them logistically, it becomes difficult.
I have to have a COVID test within 72 hours of flying with Emirates to leave Sydney, but I'm flying out at 10 o'clock on a Sunday night.
So, when you work backwards from there and try and have a COVID test that you're going to get back in time, you have to make sure that all the surgeries and labs and so forth are open. It's quite difficult.
Estonia wants one (test) 72 hours before I land in Estonia. Well, I've got 30 hours worth of flights to get there, so then you've got to minus that and your time difference in Australia and all the rest of it, it's actually quite a difficult task.
My normal GP, who I've seen for years, has organized it all and put a bit of a hurry up on it. We'll get the test basically at the last minute and he'll guarantee that we'll have those results. I'll go around to his house on the weekend and he'll print them out for me and do all that sort of stuff.
So there's a lot of people like that that have helped. And as I said, Eugene at Motorsport Australia and others have all gone above and beyond to help, so I'm certainly very appreciative of that.
Dale Moscatt and Karl Kruuda competing for Subaru in Inner Mongolia.
RSM: So when you get back, obviously you've got to go into hotel quarantine. Is that something you've got to foot the bill for as well?DM: Yes, and that's something that's sprung up after all these budgets and everything had been done. So that's a bit of a hiccup to be honest.
So the scenario at the moment is, when we started planning, Australia was on a list where I would have to quarantine when I went into Estonia.
That's since changed as of a month or so ago. So we push on with all these plans and then literally just after we said, ‘Yep, let's push the green light and do all of this’, Australia created this thing where you have to pay to quarantine when you get back in.
So we were aware that it was going to be a four week trip away, and obviously that's a big investment of time, both away from your family and other business interests and all the rest of things.
We were kind of okay with that, and then they changed the rules. I think some people are exploiting it. Now I have to pay to sit in a hotel for two weeks.
RSM: Which obviously won’t come cheap!DM: No, and as I said, all the other things along the way. So I'll have a COVID test 72 hours before I leave here, then I'll have a COVID test when I land in Estonia. And then we have to social distance and isolate ourselves until those results come back, which we're told will be 12 to 24 hours.
So that's not too big of a thing. Then Karl and I will get into our preparation for the event. He hasn't competed with me for just over 18 months.
We’ve got a couple of days planned of just basically pacenote training in areas closer to him, where he knows some roads. We'll go and do some training and both get back up to speed on his system and how it works.
Then we'll obviously have a test planned. He did drive the car briefly a week and a half ago. I think he actually took the Prime Minister of Estonia for a run in the car. That’s nice support you probably wouldn't get back here at home, but it’s a big deal over there.
Obviously we're trying to do the best we can, and we'll do as much preparation as we can before we jump in the car together and have another test day, and then shakedown for the rally.
Karl Kruuda driving a Ford Fiesta R5 at Rally Poland in 2016. Photo: Jaanus Ree
So I guess it's not ideal, but in the scenario that this year's been, it could be worse, because not many other people have had too much seat time either.
So I’m looking forward to all that. And then it'll be another COVID test – I think there's two tests planned during the week just to make sure you're still fit and healthy, and then I'll have to have another test again before I return on the Emirates flight home.
Then, once I get home, obviously I've got another test immediately when you go into the hotel, and then you've got another couple during that week. So it's going to be an interesting time, that's for sure.
RSM: I imagine you'll have your hand firmly planted on his leg during the first stage of the rally, saying, "We've got to finish this, because I'm not coming all this way for a stage one exit".DM: Yeah, no doubt. Karl's a very competitive person, there’s no questioning that. I think he's still the only non-Finn to win the Finnish championship and he's a very competitive guy. He's won Finland and Sweden in his category before, so we would like to do as well as we can obviously.
But at the same point, it's his home rally in front of his home fans and he does have a lot (of fans) there. He's a very likable, popular guy, so we'd certainly want to make sure that we're there for the entire event and we want to put on a show for everyone, so that's going to be in the back of our mind as well.
RSM: I’ll let you continue the pre-event planning. All the best for the event, and we hope it all goes according to plan.DM: Thanks for that, I appreciate it.
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