Off road legend Johnny Campbell was chosen by Robby Gordon to be the co-driver/navigator for Gordon’s Team SPEED/HUMMER in the 2012 DAKAR RALLY in South America. Ironically, Campbell had never raced in a 4 wheel vehicle nor navigated in this fashion before the very first stage. What we learn is that Campbell lived the adventure of a lifetime while simultaneously beating very seasoned navigators at their own game on three separate stages, including Campbell’s personal first, which came on stage 9
Johnny Campbell has turned out to be an exceptional co-driver. Anyone else of equal talent and pedigree who sought the public spotlight, not so much. Johnny’s manner does not foster a lot of showboating and hoopla. Instead he’s low key and ends up being mysterious and reserved. When the news first broke that Robby Gordon tapped JC to do the big one (DAKAR 2012), some of us wondered if it was April fools. It seemed so unlikely and outa left field; and that’s some of the most genius ideas seem at first, not so obvious. If you are a high-profile and rambunctious driver with a history of antics and shenanigans, you don’t want a clone of yourself sitting to your right, at least not in the DAKAR
Let’s imagine Campbell in the cockpit for a minute since the in-car footage can’t do this any justice: he’s had only a few hours the night before to study the road book, a basic reporters notebook filled with dozens of goofy symbols bred and more data than you can really use. On his very kilometers of stage 1, he was thrown into the global arena, with virtually no experience and competing against the most seasoned and successful navigators on the planet. As is turned out, this choice be Gordon paid off and Campbell earned his own first 3 stage wins on this Dakar Rally.
Campbell first explains the difference between a co-driver (off-road) and a navigator (rally). Most fans think they know the difference, but you’d have to see first hand to really know the difference a navigator spends hours on end the night before the each stage, having only been given the road book at the end of each day. His life is so in his hands, way more than a BAJA co-driver. There is no rehearsal, no pre-run, no GPS. Instead, the course has its own GPS that is challenging the navigator to find waypoints and drive through them. The notes in the road book have kilometer and his driver is blind, a total “cold run” in a very foreign place.
After a successful 2012 DAKAR, Campbell will leave his options open to any chance of returning to the DAKAR Rally to give it another attempt to make history and be the very first American to win the overall championship. Our hats go off to Campbell for this amazing effort.