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It’s ironic that champion rally co-driver Naomi Tillett is a hairdresser and make-up artist when she isn’t competing – because she’ll need a solid session in the salon after Rally Calder in Melbourne next month.

Instead of calling directions from the comparative comfort of an enclosed rally car, Tillett will be exposed to the elements in a Can-Am Commander SSV (side-by-side vehicle) at the March 2-4 event.

An SSV is like a quad-bike on steroids. It has a two-seat cockpit instead of a saddle, and a steering wheel instead of handlebars.

But even with an optional half-windscreen, door and roof panels fitted, the Commander still leaves ample opportunity for wind, rain, dust and mud to find its way in.

Rally Calder is the first round of the inaugural Australian Side-by-Side Rally Challenge, a new low-cost series that promises competitors plenty of excitement for a lot less outlay than rallying in a car.

The four-round challenge will be held in conjunction with corresponding rounds of the Australian Rally Championship in Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.

Adelaide-based Tillett, who will co-drive with ATV competition ace Darrell Knight, isn’t sure what to expect in her first side-by-side event.

“It certainly will be something different for both Darrell and me,” she said.

“He’s used to navigating for himself with a scroll reader that shows major intersections and hazards in events like the Australasian Safari, but he’s never had someone calling every bend and bump along the way.

“It could take a little while to get our communication working smoothly.”

Tillett wasn’t overly concerned that her driver’s nickname was ‘bullet’.

“I was a bit worried at first when I heard about that, but he assured me that ‘bullet’ came from the way he drives,” she said. “I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see!”.

While Tillett has plenty of experience co-driving in a speeding rally car, her biggest challenge could be focusing on her pace notes in the bucking, bouncing SSV.

“I’ll be wearing a weatherproof suit, and my notes will be laminated for protection, but the Commander won’t be as stable as a rally car on rough roads,” she said.

“What happens if it rains or we splash through muddy puddles is anyone’s guess.”

Either way, Tillett is looking forward to what is likely to be literally a hair-raising challenge.

“One thing’s for sure – I’ll be heading for the nearest bathroom with my emergency hair and make-up kit as soon as we cross the finish line!” she said.

NAOMI TILLETT

Naomi Tillett is Australia’s leading female rally co-driver, with victories in many top-line events to her credit.

She has dominated Australasia’s tarmac rally scene in recent years, co-driving with tarmac rally king Tony Quinn in the V.I.P. Petfoods Nissan GTR.

Her tally of two wins in the region’s biggest event, Targa Tasmania (2009 and 2011) and a hat-trick in Targa New Zealand (2009 to 2011) is unmatched.

Tillett has also scored outright and class placings in national and state championship dirt road rallies, as well as major off-road events such as the Australasian Safari.

Her ambition is to carve out a professional career as a co-driver in international rallying, such as the Asia-Pacific Championship or World Rally Championship.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
Targa Tasmania: 1st in 2009 & 2011; 3rd in 2010
Targa New Zealand: 1st in 2009-10-11
Rally Tasmania: 1st in 2009
Targa Wrest Point: 2nd in 2009; 3rd in 2011
Targa High Country: 2nd in 2011
Australasian Safari: 4th in 2010

CAN-AM COMMANDER 1000X

The Can-Am Commander might surprise a few rally experts at Rally Calder.

Although its 64kW Rotax engine can’t match the cars for power, its lighter weight, more compact dimensions and longer-travel independent suspension are tailor-made for tight and twisty competition stages over loose surfaces.

In fact, the all-wheel drive Commander is likely to have a traction edge over than the 2WD cars, while its CVT (continuously variable transmission) will let drivers concentrate 100 percent on driving with no need to change gears.

And when the going gets rough, the Canadian-built off-roader should really come into its own!

SPECIFICATIONS
Construction: Steel tube-frame incorporating CAMS-approved roll cage
Length: 3004mm
Width: 1489mm
Height: 1829mm
Ground clearance: 280mm
Wheelbase: 1924mm
Dry weight: 585kg
Fuel tank: 37.8 litres
Engine: 64kW 976cc Rotax water-cooled SOHC (2-valves/cylinder) four-stroke V-twin with EFI.
Transmission: Dual-range continuously variable transmission (CVT) with selectable 2WD/4WD and Visco-lok front differential.
Steering: rack and pinion; tilt-adjustable steering wheel
Suspension: Front – wishbones with coil springs, dampers and swaybar; Rear – trailing arms with coil springs, dampers and swaybar. Optional wide-track kit.
Brakes: Front – dual 214mm discs; Rear – single 214mm disc.
Tyres (OD/W/ID): 686x229x305mm Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 (ATV tread)
Wheels: 12in. diameter alloy with bead locks


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