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Tesla Model 3 co-driver drives change in rally racing – The Driven

by Oct 25, 2022Blog0 comments

On 27 October, some 85 rally cars will set off to drive from Perth to Sydney, driving 5,700 km with large parts of it on gravel roads.
There will be just one electric vehicle amongst them, driven by a husband and wife team – the Lunsmanns; Jurgen with Helen as co-driver.
If you are like me, you know nothing about car racing, except that it seems to be a deadly concoction of speed and pollution. But meeting Helen transforms my sense of it all.
Over the last couple of years Helen, the “introverted public servant” and her “car-nut and speed demon” husband, Jurgen, have regularly taken on and, at times, beaten petrol-driven racing cars in major West Australian Targa rallies, with a Tesla Model 3 on behalf of the Toceva/Gemtek racing team.
Helen is used to being exceptional. At primary school she held records for sprinting in ‘country week juniors’; by age 7, she was playing in an under 17 mixed hockey team; by the time she was 12 she was playing adult Grade B hockey. She was a ballet dancer well into her 20s. And a golfer until she damaged her knee. The list goes on.
There is a bit of rallying history on her mother’s side, but Helen only came into it seriously after she met Jurgen; he would go to ballets with her if she went to car rallies with him.
For a while, she was co-driver in WA’s only all-female tarmac rally team. For the sake of that team, she overcame her shyness to face boardrooms, media interviews and public speaking to raise funds and sponsorship.
Co-driving with her husband as driver, in “the first log-booked EV rally car in Australia,” she says happened in stages, through a mix of environmental concerns and inspiration from friends and family.
“Rallying is not just about speed and it is never about winning… it’s about completing the course,” she insists.
Her job, as co-driver, is to know the complex regulations and conventions of racing inside out. And to apply them, literally at every turn. The other job, she says, “is to keep the two of us alive.”
“Co-driving is 95 per cent lack of imagination; four per cent hard work; and one per cent good luck,” she says.
Like all rally drivers, she has stories, tall and fast, about close calls and near misses. But most of hers underline camaraderie and kindness, not just within a team but between rival teams.
I try without much luck (and my ignorance of technology is not helpful) to get her to say whether driving an EV in a race is easier or harder than an ICE car.
She says, it is unlikely that in the super quiet Tesla, she will get into those horror moments where the driver fails to hear the co-driver just when the clutch has failed!
At one point she indicates that ICE cars had more moving parts that could malfunction or break compared to Tesla 3.
But then she tells the story of what happened to the Tesla at Ellenbrook on day one of Targa West a couple of years ago.
“A sensor cable was snapped when we got a bit much air (and landed rather heavily). Alarms went off in the car,” she says.
“So the old saying remains true – a $2.50 part that goes wrong can blow your event!”
Regulations that currently guide motorsports have developed over more than a century of racing, into which the EVs need to be accommodated.
Extra constraints are imposed on the EV team, simply because there are no precedents, and no best practices for what to do in an accident involving an EV.
For example, Helen explains: “In rallying, you are responsible for the three cars in front of you on any particular stage. If they stop and need assistance, you stop. It does not matter about your time and your result. What matters is their safety.”
But what to do if the electric rally car is crashed? Some have genuine concern about their own safety.
But after sitting through a driver’s briefing where the ruling was that only officials could rescue Jurgen and Helen in the event of an incident, a female co-driver came over to me and said “F… it, Helen, if you are in trouble, I am coming to get you!”
There are “lots of FUD (fears, uncertainties, doubts) out there among drivers and officials,” she says.
But Helen is happy to work slowly, understanding the importance of bringing everyone along on a journey that is inevitably towards electric vehicles.
She can see that her slowly-slowly approach is paying off, with competitors realising that she is not trying to re-write the long traditions of racing.
She is happy to put up with a hundred bad jokes about long cables as long people “think about getting an EV as your daily driver, as your partner’s daily driver, as your kid’s first car.
“And yes, part of that change is due to the results we are getting in our Tesla,” she says. “It is a fast car – and even the biggest detractors of EVs have to admit that.”
So here’s to Helen, her driver and her car for driving fast to move us slowly towards a more sustainable world.
Hurry Krishna is Indian by birth, Australian by accident and a slow traveller by choice. She is an occasional travel blogger and has recently joined The Driven’s team of writers. She speaks a number of Asian languages, including English, and hopes to walk, cycle or drive her trusty Kona EV far and wide around the world. Under a different name she is a professor and has written many academic books and papers in her areas of specialist research in Media and Cultural Studies.
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