Tracking along with the stage notes, every inch of the course was painstakingly covered with a laser-like focus. In that spiral-bound book: Speeds are rated on a scale from one to six – with nuances signaled by plus and minus signs – along with distances to the next turn, and to what degree. Noted crests, jumps, hazards, water, and an insane variety of other observations likewise helped the team.
Norkus read aloud with a practiced cadence that became a hypnotizing chant. “… left five minus, one hundred, small crest into left five …” then Weir drove through it.
“There’s a rock on the left after the turn, so mark us to stay right,” Weir responded. The unspoken theme of the drive is felt by all: a single oversight, a fraction of a degree off on a turn tomorrow, and it’s over. The enemy wins.
Opposing forces litter the field cunningly, despite some – such as sharp rocks – being marked with bright red paint. But the enemy that instills a special kind of fear in even the most experienced driver’s heart is virtually invisible: soft dirt.
When stopping to walk the road, stepping off the tire-hardened track caused boots to sink immediately, as if in quicksand. Do the same at top speed? Catastrophic. The softness would suck traction and control from the car, just as deep, slushy snow does in winter.
Not helping matters, many of the roadside embankments looked ready to crumble into mini-avalanches, slippery with eons of composted decay. The beauty of the surroundings started to take on a quietly menacing tone.
The courses are shockingly violent; some of the most beautiful areas turned out to be minefields: extremely narrow, heavily gouged roads, soft dirt, and yet another silent adversary – hidden pockets of dust that erased any visibility. In fact, over the next two days of racing, dust caused a number of incidents.
Recce proved just how important trust is to create a solid rally team. The driver needs to have complete faith in the co-driver’s translation of the stage notes, and the co-driver must be perfectly in sync with the driver.
When Norkus was asked about sitting passenger to some of New England’s most breathtaking scenery, he said he could hardly comment. “I have to just focus on the notes and try to stay ahead for Rob.”
Spoken like a true soldier.