Words and Photos by Art Eugenio.
There are many similarities in rally raid and desert racing. Both run across open desert. Both require an in depth knowledge of reading the terrain and adapting to it. Both build their machines for longevity and top speed. The biggest difference between rally raid and desert racing is the road book. We caught up with Robby Gordon’s navigator and multi-time Baja winner, Johnny Campbell, in Iquique as he made his notes for the next stage.
Navigators are given the next days road book the evening before at the nightly drivers meeting. “At this point I go through and filter out the key points I need to relay to Robby” said Campbell. “The system I use is nothing too special or secret. I color code what I need to see, everything else is secondary.”
Basic colors define what is read. Blue for the route, yellow to highlight what’s there and how many meters to it, green for waypoints and orange for anything double danger or above. The system is straight forward and meant to be quick and easy to read.
The books are detailed with info that start in the first box on the left of the page. The large number on each note is your race kilometer, the small number below is how far it is from the last note. It is very important to pay special attention to the small number as sometimes these are very quick and if not properly highlighted you may find yourself in a world you don’t want to be in.
The next box to the right contains a lot of information. If starting from a way point the book will instruct you with a cap heading. The cap heading is ultimately what you have to adhere too as it is easy to stray from that heading if you are following tracks from the car in front of you; you may be following a car that is lost. Other information is described in detail with symbols showing bumps, whether or not they’re visible, summit (blind rise), veer left or right, hard turns, s-turns, rocks, cliffs, powerlines, canyon, cliffs and a myriad of other symbols.
Campbell explains “So this note is a blind rise or summit into a right hand so I’ll slow him down coming up to that. I don’t need to tell him about the left after because he’s already checked up and if I give him too much it will just confuse him.”
The notes are pretty straight forward; amongst these are exclamation points which equal danger, much like our down arrows in desert racing; the more exclamations the more the danger. One equals caution, two equals a hazard you much check up for like a square edged wash, three equals something that will end your race. “What I do if there’s something thats going to end our day I highlight the whole section it catches my eye to pay special attention,” said Campbell.
Once you’ve gone through your road book it is customary to go back and check to see if there were any changes before starting your rally. Changes are posted on a bulletin board and can simply be cut and taped in. Since there is no prerunning in rally raid it doesn’t make much difference if there is a change in course; only you make sure to have the note.
Johnny’s previous experience racing Dakar on a moto gives him a unique perspective on navigation. “The biggest difference is the communication. On a bike its hard because it’s just you and have to look down to navigate while riding, but you also can stand up and see over things. With a driver it’s getting him to stay on your heading and to slow down when you say. The driver may see dust off to the left but we have a waypoint over on the right. His natural instinct is to chase the dust but we’ll miss that waypoint and catch a penalty. Communication is key and can win or loose a stage for you.”