Faithful friends of an experienced rally driver

Faithful friends of an experienced rally driver

Race suit, helmet, gloves, shoes, microphones and earpieces, but also an ordinary mobile phone. Do you know what gear a rally car crew need when taking part in all competitions?

23. 1. 2020 Lifestyle Motorsport

Whether you follow this sport regularly or just occasionally tune in to check out an “RZ”, it’s likely you’ve wondered what it’s like to be inside one of the souped-up cars. What equipment do the crew have with them in the cars and what do they wear?

The ŠKODA Motorsport team know all about this. And world champion and multiple Czech champion Jan Kopecký and his FABIA R5 evo are best-placed to show you.   

Rally driver Jan Kopecký and his driving gear

Clothing under control

Before we open the rally car door and look inside, the first thing to check out is what the crew are wearing. They all wear special clothing compliant with the FIA (International Automobile Federation) standards. Race suits, shirts and balaclavas all have to have a homologation tag. These tags are checked during the technical inspection and without this certification crews would be unable to race. The ŠKODA factory crew use clothing made by OMP.

  • The gloves are the same right across the team – all crews use the same type and design, with only the sizes varying.
  • The shoes are the personal choice of every crew member, but primarily the drivers, of course. There are differences in the hardness of the soles and how they are tied. Some prefer classic laces, others prefer a special tightening disc. “Generally, the soles of racing shoes are very soft so we get the best possible feel of the pedals. But the material of the entire shoe varies. The ones I wear are made from soft leather, and they are probably the best and most expensive ones available today. I like the fact that the material is very soft, so they’re a nice snug fit without being too tight. The disadvantage is that the leather stretches after a few races and even the little disc can’t tighten them properly after that. I get through at least two racing pairs a year,” says the Czech champion.
  • With helmets, there is a choice between closed and open. “Our helmets are a kind of compromise – they’re half-closed. It’s a system only used by the manufacturer Stilo. But lots of crews have fully closed helmets as well, without acrylic glass, of course,” Kopecký explains. Are the helmets custom-made? “No. All our crews use the standard helmet sizes made by Stilo,” smiles Jana Tomanová, who is the ŠKODA Motorsport team member in charge of crews’ clothing.  The helmets have to satisfy FIA standards, as not all helmets are accepted for world championships – the homologation tag is checked at the technical inspection. The team receives the helmets unpainted. A designer from the ŠKODA Design department takes care of designing their look.

Jana Tomanová
ŠKODA Motorsport Team 

  • One important factor that has to be resolved in rally cars is how the driver’s head and neck are kept in place. It has to be neither too tight nor too loose. It has to be functional. The HANS system takes care of that. “The original HANS device is a kind of shell-like structure that is fitted onto the shoulders, held tight with the seatbelts and attached to the helmet, which restrains the head and prevents injuries to the cervical spine and stops the face hitting the steering wheel in the event of a collision. Sliders are used to allow the head to turn freely. Of course, the range of movement is therefore restricted, which is fine during circuit races, say. But in rally driving we often use controlled skids and we need to see well on either side, so the restraints are looser. That’s why it’s a hybrid system, in fact. It allows for greater head movement, and it has one definite advantage – in rally cars you often get impacts from below, when you land after jumps, for example, and the standard shell construction could break your collarbone. The system we use rules that out,” Kopecký says, describing the differences between the two types of safety equipment.

The rule at world championship events is that every crew member always has a back-up set of all his gear, in case of any kind of defect.

Do you read me?

It’s really loud inside a rally car – the driver and his co-driver could shout their heads off and they still wouldn't hear each other. That’s why they use communication devices that let them speak to each other normally.

The co-driver's bag contains standard articles like a logbook, maps, service plan, course schedule etc. 

This involves an internal “wired” circuit. During transport stages, the crew use earpieces and microphones; when racing their helmets are hooked up to the circuit. The helmets have integrated noise-cancelling headphones and microphones.

Filip Bezděk
ŠKODA Motorsport Team 

The cars are not equipped with transmitters for communicating with the depot.  “For that the crew has an ordinary mobile phone they use to communicate with the race engineer. When they’re racing in remote areas without a stable signal, they can use a satellite phone,” explains Filip Bezděk, the ŠKODA Motorsport team member in charge of the development and application of technologies and safety features.

How do they communicate with the team? After every time trial the co-driver sends a text message informing the race engineer how the stage went, the state of the car and tyres, and any comments the driver has about the car’s setup. They also send data from temperature and pressure sensors that appear on the main display. If they crash, they send a photo of the damage to the car.

“At the finish line of every time trial I switch the car from racing to transport mode, at which point the main panel displays all the key data on temperature and pressure. The co-driver takes a photo of the display and sends it to the engineer. It’s nothing sophisticated, we just use WhatsApp,” laughs Jan Kopecký, who was born in Opočno in East Bohemia.

Before a refuelling area, the co-driver calls the race engineer and tells him how much fuel there is in the tank. The race engineer then calculates the exact amount of fuel needed. “With their years of experience, race engineers know what the car’s consumption is when not racing and in specific types of racing stage. Based on that, they can calculate how many litres of fuel are needed to ensure the car does not run out of fuel but is as light as possible while complying with the prescribed weight limit,” Kopecký says.

“If there is a technical problem or question, the crew calls the race engineer and tries to sort it out. In the car there is the same manual the race engineer has – so they can identify the defect,” Bezděk adds.