One of the key differences between stage rally and rallycross is the absence of a co-driver, as the courses are short enough to be easily memorized without pace notes. But with the addition of other cars on track, racing side by side, drivers still have a voice in their ear during the race: that of the spotter.
For Subaru PUMA Rallycross Team, David Higgins has filled the role for the past two years, predominantly serving Dave Mirra in 2012 and Bucky Lasek this season. Himself an accomplished driver, having won four rally championships in the United States and a bronze medal at X Games Los Angeles in 2011, Higgins’ understanding of the sport is a crucial element to his team on race day.
“I come on the events with the drivers to be another pair of eyes from a driving coach point of view, to be able to see what’s going on,” Higgins explains. “(I’ll) look what other cars are doing, look when another team or another driver is doing some lines a little bit faster. Then I can relay that back.”
Depending on the driver, the role of the spotter can still be significantly varied during a race. As an experienced rally driver, Higgins’ background is significantly different than those of Mirra and Lasek. Their needs in the car, therefore, as just as disparate.
“When I was doing the driving, I had my (Rally America) co-driver (Craig Drew), so we’ve got a relationship, we know what to do,” Higgins notes. “Sometimes, when I was driving the events, I would speak to Craig and I’d say ‘I’m going to try driving this corner a very neat, efficient way, and I’m also trying it a bit more flamboyant. Can you let me know which is the fastest one once we’ve done it a few times?’ So we’d have a pre-structured thing of what we were going to do.
“But since Dave and Bucky haven’t got that level of experience yet, you can’t go out and ask them to drive two laps one way and two laps the other way, because they want to use every lap they can to get the maximum out of that session.
“Even the difference between English terms and American terms—we talk in the same language, but (have a) completely different use of it. So we have to adapt.”
Though he may work mostly with Lasek, Higgins isn’t assigned to a single car within the team. “I’m here to help all the drivers—it just happens to be that I’m with Bucky at the moment. It’s not like a set thing that you can only work with that guy, we’re here to help the team do the best job they can do.”
That was never more apparent than at X Games Munich, when both Mirra and Lasek spun in Saturday’s last chance qualifier and failed to advance. But while fans only saw the two Subarus turned alongside one another, Higgins had been trying desperately to communicate with both drivers behind the scenes.
“There’s not an awful lot you can say in those situations. Unfortunately, when Dave spun and Bucky spun next to him, I was trying to tell Dave ‘tell Bucky to go wide because of what happened.’ But you know you’re having a bad day when your radio goes flat. He couldn’t even hear me! So he ended up parking next to him.”
No matter whose radio he’s using, Higgins notes that it’s important not to overcommunicate with a driver.
“I know from a driving point of view, when you’re driving these cars, you’re very busy—there’s a lot going on. You don’t want to be hearing too much information. It’s more for reminding them when they’re coming to start procedures, if there’s a part of the track that’s wet or dry, or a different line you can take. It’s trying to keep it as simple as possible.
“The benefit of being a driver and a spotter is, you know what you want to listen to, and you know what you need. You can slow a guy down very, very easy by feeding him too much information and making him too cautious.
“I go on the basis of ‘if they can see it, I don’t need to say it.’”
Photo credit: QBA/QNIGAN.com