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After the rally we headed to Geilo for the John Haugland Rally School, which is based in a popular ski area. The drive up was a fantastic trip, winding up the mountains, but it took us a bit longer to get there because we stopped every few kilometres for "another photo opportunity." Climbing up the mountains with views of snow capped peaks and frozen lakes with wooden cottages nestled in the trees - it really felt like you were in a different world.


The hotel we were staying in was in a ski resort, with lots of heating and a wicked restaurant, so I was in heaven!! We arrived Sunday afternoon, eagerly anticipating the next four days. It was a pretty overwhelming feeling to be on the other side of the world preparing to drive flat out on a frozen lake and I was very nervous, to say the least.

Day one started as a baptism of fire. After a theory session on technique, it was straight into the left hand drive Peugeot 206 for the half hour drive to the lake, up and down the mountains, driving along narrow snow-covered roads in traffic on the wrong side of the road. It's amazing that you are driving on snow and ice, but the spiked tyres have so much grip, it’s just like driving on gravel.

The first day we drove around the track made by John on the lake. At first it was quite difficult to see where the road went because when you looked up everything was white. Once we learnt the track, it was all about applying what we had been told in the theory. Every day I felt more and more comfortable with the car and the track and kept improving on my driving. One of the biggest challenges I found was switching from a 'rear wheel drive mode' into a front wheel drive one. Instead of balancing a slide with the throttle - it was all about keeping as much power on to drive the car through the corner.

Each day I was continually improving and gaining confidence. There was a lot to learn and every day was pretty full on. After a briefing each morning, it was out to the lake until it got too dark to drive and then do it all again the next day. It really was like living a dream.

The track was really great. The first week they had cut out a 3.8km track which had a combination of tight, medium and “flat out in 5th gear” corners. It had been set up specifically to facilitate the perfect track to practice all the skills we were learning, amd with a lot of direction changes and corners, you really needed to commit to. A lot of the emphasis on the driving was to overdrive initially, to find the limits in an environment that was safe to do so. This meant John’s wife, Julie, was very busy towing people out of snow banks! After an off I had, we brought the car back into the pit area and opened the bonnet to find it completely jam packed with snow!

There was also a forest stage we used at the end of the week. At first there were some problems with getting the forest stage clear, so once that was sorted we were able to take the cars there. The roads were fantastic. This stage was fast and flowing then became tighter and narrow, so it was a real mix. It was much slipperier than the lake as there was quite a lot of loose snow. It was really great to have a run with the pacenotes on a stage, although we had to play around with the car set-up a lot to make it more stable in the rear on a faster road, as we had it quite tail happy for the lake.

On the Thursday night we had dinner in an old traditional Norwegian hut. It consisted of two small rooms, which we were told was home to a family of eight. Apparently the husband slept sitting up with his rifle, in case they were broken into. We ate a traditional stew full of elk and reindeer – it was actually really yummy!

The second week was a real bonus and I think having a few days off really helped and everything clicked much more so on the fifth day. I came back in from a run and I was greeted by Dad saying “that looked beautiful”. I think it almost brought a tear to his eye. I guess it is a sure sign you’re hooked on rallying when holding a slide through the snow is classed as ‘beautiful’!

John also said that he was proud of me, so I was very excited. Having another week was definitely worthwhile and I was able to make everything much more automatic and be able to focus on the finer details. We went to a different forest stage this week, which was 10km long. I was disappointed to have to pack up and leave the stage at the end of the day, but by that time the moose had claimed the track – a bit like kangaroos in Australia at dusk, but the moose grow to over two metres high and the Peugeot couldn’t quite fit under them!

It was a fantastic course, not just from learning driving technique, but we also spent a lot of time learning about car set-up and playing with the suspension throughout the week. Having only experienced driving with non–adjustable suspension, I was amazed at how much you could transform and get the most out of your car with just a few clicks, and found it really fascinating.

We also learnt a lot about writing pacenotes and personal preparation. They focused on writing speed notes, which was a different concept to what I have been learning, so I will be writing a lot of pace notes for the roads around Sydney to practice. I found the personal preparation side of things very interesting, which is also what the CAMS Women’s Driver Development Program looks at.

John really emphasized that, just as important as being able to prepare the best car possible, the driver is still the one that has to get that potential out of the car and we are the ones in control.

It was definitely a sad moment sitting in the airport waiting to leave as I tried to concoct a way for us to miss the plane so we could stay another week. But having said that, I am now more excited than ever for Rally Queensland and being able to apply all those things I learnt on the ice. It is definitely hard to describe how fantastic the course was. I still haven’t come down from cloud nine!



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