NAIVASHA, Kenya, Apr 14 – The splendor and magnificence of the cockpit usually rests with the driver behind the wheel. He is the one who takes credit for team glory. In the rally sport, it’s not only the driver’s effort that carries the day.
It is sheer teamwork and commitment of every member, as Safari Rally veteran navigator Abdul Sidi would put it. “For your pace-notes to work, the driver needs to have faith in his passenger on the adjacent bucket seat,” Abdul, who once called the pace-notes for the legendary Patrick Njiru, quips.
As a navigator, Abdul has done18 Safaris and finished in 15 of them! “Safari that time was a mammoth 5800kms drive. It left competitors bruised and battered. There were 98-time controls back in the day. This time the FIA (World Governing Body) has made it simpler. Nowadays, the stages are shorter. The longest stage at that time was 220kms.Now the longest stage is 34kms,” the pace note guru told Capital Sport.
He added, “But for a navigator whether the stages are long or short, it’s just the same dedication. It calls for the same weightiness. You need to be committed. As a navigator you are the boss in the car. You are the singer in the cockpit. You are singing and the driver is dancing to the music.”
“Imagine where instructions are coming after every 30-40 meters and the car is cruising at 200kph. It’s not a joke.”
Abdul reveals that a navigator can make you either win or lose a rally. He says navigators can make you a hero or a zero.
“In a very short stage when a navigator misses a note or makes a wrong slot, it may be game over,” he went on.
Abdul is excited that the WRC Safari Rally Kenya will be a navigator’s affair rally due to its technical nature of the terrain. He explains: “The stages are too tight as there are a lot of junctions. You can imagine the speeds these cars do at 200khp. The WRC car is very powerful, so the navigator has to be keen, very tight, fit and ready call instructions under pressure.”
“Before every event, a navigator must go out with the driver to the route a day prior for reconnaissance to familiarize with the route. That’s where the navigators make the notes. In the car, the driver doesn’t have time to ask you what you said. That is time wasted. If you miss a note, quickly say what he has missed. So that you are not hitting the next instruction unawares; which might be a triple caution. You must also manage time so that you don’t attract penalties by checking into controls early or late.”
Abdul currently runs ASRA (Abdul Sidi Rally Academy) where he uses his expertise in rallying to train rally drivers, controllers and stage commanders.
He creates an avenue for young people to join the sport at a basic level… “Nobody taught me how to teach rallying, it’s the experience and passion that I have gathered as a navigator with an experience of over 25 years. I have rallied across Africa and as far afield as Malaysia,” he said.
“With ASRA I have groomed over 60 students to join the sport. Riyaz Ismail, Tuta Mionki, Hellen Shiri, Eric Bengi, Joe Muchiri -just to name but a few-are all my students. Bengi is currently a KNRC Premier Cass driver. I feel very proud when they are doing very well. Norris Ongalo is the Chief Security Officer of Safari. He was my student too,” said Abdul.