How do I become a co-driver and what do I need to know?
To stand at the top of the podium is a MAGICAL feeling! Here I and Chichi have won the Desert Challenge 2009 for our BMW X-raid team! (Picture on page)
And not only that - we also won the World Cup in the Rally-raid series 2010 together with our talented x-Raid TEAM from Germany.
2008, we (Naser and me) became historical in the Middle East and the world, by competing together (Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyha, Qatar), right now the biggest sports profile in his country. We won the Rally-raid and Baja World Cups of 2008. In a constellation like this, in any sport, a woman from Europe competing with a man from the Middle East, has never ever existed in the world, ever!
I would like to thank Nasser’s mother for the fact that we became that competitive team. Without her open-minded upbringing, her son could have had preconceptions when it comes to the co-driver’s color of skin, gender or religion. We also led the Dakar Rally in South America in 2009 when we were disqualified after sixth stage, due to an engine problem that made me navigate straight to the finish and we were not allowed to re-start. Why did we separate as a team after that? I did see the potential in Nasser but our team at that time did not have the car for it, however VW did. So, I managed to open up for a contract for him there where I stayed with x-raid. A team that have supported me and my career since 1999 with my ever best boss and friend, Sven Quandt.
My career in motor sports started in 1990. Since then, I have won three women’s world championships and two second places in GR. N. World Champion and TWO World Cup’s 2008 and 2010. To this I also count our second and third place in the famous Dakar rally as my main qualifications in motorsport.
I have also co-driven some more amazing drivers, such as Colin McRae, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Kenneth Eriksson and Ari Vatanen. In total I have navigated about twenty international drivers; the fastest women as well as the fastest men in rally cars of my time in motorsport!
How did I become a world rally co-driver? What talents did I need to have? What knowledge has been needed?
I have received questions like these many times. Here I hope you can find some answers to them:
I grew up in a farm on Värmlandsnäs in a large family where everyone had to help out no matter what task. We all got to learn to manage and fix what was needed. NO excuses – complains – or loosing patience when things got tough. I believe this has helped out and did create a winner’s mindset!
To become a good co-driver, it is important to have; an open mind – patience – wanting to learn and adopt - be careful and be a good organizer with rhythm in the blood. To read pace notes and navigate, is like dancing with your driver and the car in nature. Everything has to be in a FLOW! When you have to think – we are to slow. And to create flow – YOU NEED TO PRACTICE until it is running automatically through the synapses in your brain!
It was my first boyfriend, Lars-Erik Torph, that got me engaged in the sport. From the beginning I was involved in organizing everything around his competitor, but once when his co-driver could not come along, I had to step in. At that time, there was really no school I could attend when it came to co-driving. I did ask for good advice from the professional co-drivers from Sweden who told me their tips and trix. The most important was for sure that I could compete, compete and again compete. Be aware of what you can improve – develop with your driver and be open to feedback given to you (even if it hurts your EGO).
In short: If you have the talent of not being sensitive to motion sickness, being able to focus and fix things during a bumpy ride- yes, you can train yourself to become a world class co-driver!
It has not been easy to make a career in motor sports. The valleys have been deep with long uphill battles. But when I look back, through the sport I have had an extremely eventful life. I have travelled around the world, met new inspiring people, lived in different cultures with their different religions and views. Through this I have always had opportunities to learn something new, view it from different angels and realize that in the end – we are so alike! Of course, it has been difficult to be a girl in a male- dominated world. But if one performs, delivers world class and can sell one’s product - yes, then one has the opportunity!
The job as a co-driver means sitting in a car 10 to 16 hours a day, writing down notes, navigating out of a roadbook (a book with directives from the organization on where to go) or navigating from a map. I distinguish between being a co-driver in a rally car versus a desert car. It requires different skills depending on which motorsport discipline you are working with..
The difference is:
In a rally, the most important thing is to record the correct degree on each turn and that the dimensions between the curves are correct. If I drive in a car in a desert rally, it is central to know where we are and then to navigate to the next point on the map, but for both, 100% concentration is required! Because if you are missing out on something, it can turn out that we get off the road, get stuck or get lost among giant sand dunes. During the actual competition, I must also keep track of time, everything takes place according to predetermined schedules and if you do not keep the schedule, we get a punishment. You never relax but must always be on guard with everything. It requires a lot of preparation and to stay focused! When you work with technology and want to get on the podium, it is also required that you have a GREAT TEAM and a car that is competitive!
When I compete in a full championship, there will not be much time left for the private life. Because this means around 250 days of travelling including press and PR events.
It is also required that you are in excellent shape (mind and body) because you are subjected to hard tests and must cope with both stress, pressure and crashes. Therefore, it is important to learn to practice mental training, drink water, eat good quality food and sleep properly. There is no place for laziness. Balanced life is such an important piece of the puzzle.
I have had my sport as a profession since 1990 and I think it is as fun and exciting now as then, even though I do not work with it full time any more. But whatever I do I fight for victories!
The rally events are run on closed roads, and that is the sport I worked in from 1986 until 2002. But in 1998 I also got to test and co-drive in desert rallies and I fell in love with this sport so until 2011 this has been my main competition ground.
It started in a Mitsubishi Pajero with Jutta Kleinschmidt. These rally-raid competitions are between 3 to 25 days. When competing in the World Championship in the beginning of 2000, it took a week in total with training and three days of competition.
In the off-road rallies you drive “blind”, in other words, you do not know what it looks like or if there is a way to follow ahead the next dune or corner. YOU DRIVE WHAT YOU SEE and PREPARE FOR WHAT YOU THINK LAYS AHEAD. It is like a new adventure every day. You come to a new place every night and receive a plan for the next day with a new goal. Here it is important to have patience and not to give up. Sleep deprivation is common, and we live in tents that are built up from each and one that takes part. Every night there is a new “tent village” occurring at the rest place. Here we can be up to 3 000 people and 500 vehicles.
I went back into rally for 2 more years, 2001 and 2002, in the Rally World championship factory team of Citroen and Skoda. Then back to rally-raid and since 2003 I have been working for Nissan, VW and BMW X-raid team in rally-raid.
In May 2005, I started with Giniel de Villliers and Volkswagen. It resulted in three second places in the World Cup of rally-raid during that season and a second place in the Dakar rally in 2006. I Feel proud! This followed with two World Cup victories in the Desert- and Baja’s-series 2008 together with Nasser Al-Attiyah. In 2009, we led Dakar before we had a broken engine in the sixth stage. From March 2009, there was a change of driver and I became a co-driver for Guerlain Chicherit. Together we won the World Cup in 2010.
Over the years, I have gained great technical knowledge and a lot of driving experience, but I have also realized that I will never be able to handle a car as well as my drivers. But I feel confident behind the steering wheel of my own car when driving in any condition. This is my subjective assessment. I have competed in some rallies as well as on the track and my most challenging race; the 24 hours of Nürburgring in 2000.
I have never felt or have had the longing to be a professional driver. Sometimes I have thought about whether my drivers would manage my job, as a co-driver? But since we have never switched places, I do not know.
What I know is that I have always, during my competitions, wanted to perform the best I can. When I know I did that – the results are counted as victories for me.
Being a woman in a male-dominated sport has not always been positive but the bright moments have been so many more. In our world we get nothing for free and all of us (most of us) have to be determined and earn it. When it comes to the men who have surrounded me in the sport, they have also very often, made me feel like a lady.
The advantage of being a woman in the sport was especially when I entered press and public relations events. At this events I did stand out from the crowd of men which makes one feel special!
I have been racing with many different drivers over the years. I started my career with Lars-Erik Torph then it became; Carina Hermanson, Susanne Kottulinsky, Mats Jonsson, Ola Strömberg, Mats Karlsson, Leif Asterhag, Louise Atiken-Walker, Isolde Holderied, Simon Davison, Uwe Nittel, Mika Solberg, Mattias Ekström, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Thomas Rådström, Kenneth Eriksson, Ari Vatanen, Colin McRae, Giniel De Villiers, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Guerlain Chicherit.
I have been racing with all kinds of cars; Volvo, Saab, Audi, Volkswagen, Opel, Ford, Toyota, Subaru, Lada, Mitsubishi, Citroën, Skoda, Nissan and BMW.
It has been in national and international events, in all kinds of classes such as; Gr A, Gr B, Gr N and WRC cars.
I have had victories in competitions in the national as well as international championships, for example; second place in the European Championships and in group N World Championships. I have been second and third place in two rally World Championship events and had a second and a third place overall in Rally Dakar. Me and Jutta was leading the rally and won our class in 1999 and became third overall, we were the first girl team to stand on the podium in Dakar rally! With Giniel, we came second in 2006 overall.
During 2008 and 2010 I won three world cups together with X-raid and the drivers Nasser and Guerlain.
I have been competing in the Dakar rally with different drivers. The last Dakar I did was 2010, when I co-drove Guerlain Chicherit. We were successful, we won stage 11 and fished fifth overall. But still I have not won it outright. The same goes for the World Rally Championship.
But was it all about Winning? For my status, in the eyes of others and for most of my career – YES - it has been!
But from my view NOW – I have achieved SO MUCH more than what I had ever expected in many other areas! To realize that - is for me the best VICTORY of them all! How this journey has formed and educated me to become the person I am today!
Now I have completed many of my goals:
I did turn 50 in 2016 and is healthy and fit to take on many more years to come, challenges and achievements.
I am also in the middle of a transformation from being a full-time professional co-driver to guiding others to finding their own motivation to achieve their unique goals and challenges as a coach, speaker and educator.
From 2019 – my professional life has taken me back to the motor sports government, FIA – both its sport- and mobility side. I am now working as a race director for the biggest global road safety initiative; FIA Smart Driving Challenge.
As I see it - there are surely many exciting roads that require top class navigation out there for me to concur. I am so looking forward making this Challenge successful as well (you can read more about this under Race Director on my homepage)!