A world championship rally is won or lost by two. In truth, the best crews are as one. They form a couple, they back one each other, the indispensable complement. They are accomplices, brothers in sport, different in character but inseparable in soul. Vincent Landais, co-driver to Pierre-Louis Loubet since 2015, offers us some brilliant insight into his job and mission. Into “Pilouis” talent and their faith in the future.
We know what the driver does, but what is the co-driver’s job?
Everyone thinks straight away that the job is to take notes during reconnaissance and to read them during the rally. But that is only half the job. The other half is a never-ending list of “micro-tasks”. When i say “micro-tasks”, it’s not that they are not important, on the contrary, they are essential. But they are many and do not absorb you in the same way.
For example ?
For example, three days after Rally Germany, i called Pierre-Louis to brief him for Rally Catalonia. I told him that the first day on dirt would be the same as 2016. That way i know he would have had a few weeks to go over the dirt specials (since we have the onboard images). I know he watches a lot of Sebastien Ogier. The parts on asphalt however, we are doing them in the opposite direction, so we can’t prepare them beforehand. After that, another “micro-task”: I take care of booking airline tickets, i check with Pierre-Louis if he prefers leaving from Porto-Vecchio or Paris, find the best flights at the best price. Except in the biggest teams, this logistical and organisational work is often taken care of by the co-driver. I like doing it, it is not an issue. But since we started driving for M-Sport, a big team, they take care of a certain number of tasks, notably the relations with the organisers and the sporting authorities, and it gives me more time and energy to prepare the rallying itself.
Is it easy to get the onboards?
Since the WRC put in place an online video platform in 2014 it is very easy. We find all the onboards of the 10 best crews in the world. For videos of years before, we make do with YouTube or other platforms. And then sometimes we find nothing and too bad.
Are you a professional co-driver?
I have this chance since two years now. Its become my full-time job which i devote myself to entirely.
How does the note-taking with Pierre-Louis go?
He is very precise in his note-taking. Precise, quick and dense. He gives a lot of information. And since he is capable of driving very quickly on his first pass, you have to be extremely concentrated and follow closely. I have to write quickly to not lose the thread.
And then you read it back to him?
Une fois qu’on a écrit, on revient au départ, et là je lui récite ce que j’ai noté. En même temps, on a une GoPro qui filme notre deuxième passage. Le soir, dès qu’on est rentrés à l’hôtel, on étudie la journée, on se refait un passage avec la caméra. On regarde l’écran ensemble, et moi je lui récite encore une fois les notes. Et on remet ça la veille de la course. Pour chaque spéciale, on procède de cette façon. Once we have written, we go back to the start and i read back what i have noted to him. At the same time, we have a GoPro filming our second passage. The evening, when we are back at the hotel, we go through the day and go through the camera. We look at the screen together and i read back the notes once more, and we do it again the night before the rally.
I imagine that in the preparation of the timings a rally weekend, you must have more “micro-tasks”…
Of course. I will prepare the reconnaissance for example, because we have time slots given to us by the organiser. So you must have your schedule ready, and prepare your maps. Then i receive thee maps from M-Sport and i compare what i have made with what they have made. Every Monday before a rally, we have a meeting with only the co-drivers so we can plan the reconnaissances, because we have a full management team. If we have a technical problem during “recce”, if one is hungry or thirsty, you must know where and when the team assisting us is, and i have to put this into my scheduling and planning. If Pierre-Louis is in need of a coffee during the course, i have to know that the refreshment van is two or five kilometres away. It’s a lot of small details, but over 300 km of “recce”, i can tell you that you must have your stuff right. During the rally i also have my “micro-tasks”: between specials, i will control and adjust tire pressures. In any way, i have a check-list, there is so much to do, to the point of checking that the stickers are properly glued to the car (laughs) that it’s easy to forget something.
But you have the route? Not the driver?
Absolutely. Pierre-Louis will ask me the morning of the rally. He needs to know how things unfold, the number of specials, at what time we start, at what time we go back, etc. He needs to have that in his head.
So do you get on well with Pierre-Louis, even with your age difference?
Yeah, really well! I am five years older than him, but we laugh at the same things, we debate around the same subjects, we talk about the news. We are in sync. It’s funny, because when i started with him, he was 18 and had only done ten rallies. He was at the wheel, besides me, he looked like a kid, and yet at the wheel he was not a kid! At the wheel, he isn’t the same.
Have you ever been afraid with him at the wheel?
Never! In Germany, we were so concentrated that we didn’t even realise what was going on! But we had a big fright on the Sunday morning. We felt good in the car, capable of attacking, and then we went wide in the grass, and honestly we were lucky because it could have ended very badly. After that we kept on laughing until the finish!! A journalist asked “but what is it you are laughing about?” We told him “we just had a mad experience”. But fear? Never. The next special, we attacked just has hard. I have never been afraid with Pierre-Louis, never.
How is he at the wheel?
He does everything naturally. He doesn’t force anything, he wants to do this. You can see and feel it. Maybe he doesn’t realise what he is already capable of. One has the impression that he doesn’t suffer, that he is at ease naturally. That everything is innate. And on top of that, one day when he will exploit his talent further, work on it and refine it in order to capitalise on all of his experience and put it into action, then, it will be very strong! But since i met him for the first time, he has already progressed a lot in his driving style, thinking and road knowledge. And he has a big progress margin left.
Do you foresee a big future for him?
Definitely! And i will tell you one thing: the day when he will be World Champion, i will ask him in public: “what did you do with my shower gel at Rally Germany 2017?” Because the charm of Pierre-Louis is his age. Since the beginning i have accustomed him slightly to take care of him, it’s my way of doing my job. And i think he has taken taste to it! I have to think of everything for him, from shampoo to shower gel, even underwear and toothpaste!! (laughs) In Germany i didn’t see my shower gel for the entire week, it stayed in my drivers bathroom!
It’s touching isn’t it?
Indeed, and we laugh. We spend great moments together. There are also less good moments, and in those cases i have to force myself to help him as i can, that’s my job. But the important thing is not to lose faith. And that carries us both.