'How do you become a rally co-driver, and what is it you ought to know?'
This I have been asked many times!
I grew up on a farm in the Swedish province of Värmland in a large family. Here I learned to take care of and manage everything. Maybe, it is for that reason that I always wish to succeed at anything I attempt. To be a good rally co-driver, you need to be patient, pay attention to details, and be a good organizer with a sense of rhythm. It was my first boyfriend, Lars-Erik Torph, who got me interested in the sport. At first, my involvement consisted of organizing the logistics of his racing. One day, there was a shortage of co-drivers, and I had to jump in. There is no school that you can attend. You have to ask for advice from the more experienced co-drivers, and then just race, race, and race! If you are talented in reading notes, and how to find your way on a map, then you have the chance of succeeding.
It has not been easy building a career within motorsports. There have been many ups and downs. When I look back, I have had a very eventful life, thanks to my sport. I have travelled around the world, met new cultures with different religions and ways of living, and have had the opportunity to learn a lot. Yes, indeed, it has been difficult to be a woman in this world of men. If you accomplish difficult work and gain ground, you can sell your ‘product’, and definitely get the job!
Being a rally co-driver entails sitting in a car for 10–16 hours a day, writing notes or reading the map. There is a difference between being a co-driver in a rally or participating in a rally raid in the desert. Different skills are demanded. In a rally, the most important thing is to write the descriptive notes of the driver and call them correctly. In a rally raid in the desert, it is most essential to know where you are, and to navigate towards the next point on the map. Here you have to be one hundred percent concentrated. If you make only a slight mistake, it may result in you sliding off the track, getting stuck in the desert sand, or getting lost among the gigantic sand dunes. During the race, I have to keep an eye on my watch, because everything runs on a set schedule; if we do not complete the stage in time, we will be given a time penalty. I am never allowed to relax as I am always in charge. All possible and necessary preparations must be given careful consideration – and sometimes you need to find a professional solution.
Taking part in competition does not leave much time for my private life. I travel approximately 250 days out of the year, including press and PR-events.
You also have to be in extremely good shape, as your body is put to demanding tests, and you have to cope with both stress and pressure. It is of great importance to eat nutritious food and get enough sleep. Any negligence will come back to hit you like a boomerang – and it will hit you hard! Balance and inner harmony are important..
Since 1990 my sport is my profession, and still I am as fond of it as ever before. The only difference is that nowadays I do not struggle with the routine, as I did in the beginning. Today I want to accomplish results! In other words: I fight for victory!
To reach the winner’s podium, however, is very much a question of riding in a competitive car which has progressed with the best technical development.
In former times, I mostly raced on closed roads.
In 1999/2000, however, I participated for the first time in the Rally Raid Paris – Dakar.
It all began in a MITSUBISHI PAJERO together with Jutta Kleinschmidt in a race that lasted 25 days. Competing in a WRC-rally takes two or three days of recce and maybe three days for the rally itself. In the desert everything is ‘blind’, as we call it, which means we do not know what it looks like or if there is a track to follow. Every day is a new adventure. Every night we arrive at a new location. We get a plan and a new destination for the following day. Here it is important to be patient, not to give up and refuse to quit. We live in tented camps, and we are deprived of sleep.
During the years 2001 and 2002, I returned to the WRC, but since 2003 I have competed with the Rally Raid Team for NISSAN, and I exclusively raced in the desert. The best results were two overall victories, one in Morocco, one in Portugal.
In May 2005, I began my co-operation with Giniel de Villiers for VOLKSWAGEN. During that season, we managed to come in second three times in the Desert Cup. In 2006, we finished second overall in the Rally Paris – Dakar; of which I am very proud!
These successes are followed by two victories in the year 2008 in the Desert, and the Baja-series, both with Nasser Al-Attiyah. During the Dakar 2009 we had the leading position, but unfortunately we had to drop out of the race in the sixth stage. In March 2009 I started navigating for Guerlain Chicherit from France. Together we have won the World Cup in the Desert-series 2009, including two event victories.
During these years I have gained great technical knowledge and plenty of driving practice. I have realized, however, that I will never drive a car as well as the rally drivers I have co-operated with throughout the years. On the other hand, it’s not my business, and the question is, if they could manage to do my job! I know that I do my job to the best of my ability, and therefore I count every result as a victory!
To be a woman in this male-dominated sport has not always been an easy experience, even if there have been bright moments. In my world nothing is for free, and you have to elbow your way forward. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like a real lady, because most men in the sport of rally are true gentlemen. At press- and PR-events, it has been advantageous for me to be a woman, because when I appear among all these men, I am definitely noticed!
I have raced with several rally drivers during the years. My career started with Lars-Erik Torph and continued with Carina Hermanson, Susanne Kottulinsky, Mats Jonsson, Ola Strömberg, Mats Karlsson, Leif Asterhag, Louise Aitken-Walker, Isolde Holderied, Simon Davison, Uwe Nittel, Mika Solberg, Mattias Ekström, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Thomas Rådström, Kenneth Erisson, Ari Vatanen, Colin McRae and, finally, Giniel de Villiers, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Guerlain Chicherit.
I have also raced in various makes of cars: VOLVO, SAAB, AUDI, VOLKSWAGEN, OPEL, FORD, Toyota, Subaru, Lada, MITSUBISHI, Citroën, Skoda, NISSAN, BMW, both national cars and Gr. A, Gr. N and the WRC .
Competitions, that I have participated in are: the Swedish, German, English and European Championships, World Rally Championship and Rally Raid Cup (desert).
As my greatest achivements I count victories in at least one stage of national championships and finishing second in the European Championship and the Gr. N World Championship. In addition, I have managed to place second and third se in two World Championships. In the Rally Paris – Dakar in 1999, Jutta Kleinschmidt and me won our group and finished third overall. We were the first Ladies’ Team ever to enter the winner’s podium. This, however, I improved upon in 2006 together with Giniel de Villiers by finishing second overall.
Together with X-Raid, I won three World-Cup-victories during the years 2008 and 2009. As already mentioned above, I have raced the Dakar several times with various drivers, but never managed to win an overall victory. In the Dakar 2010 in South America, team Chicherit (F)/Thörner (Ch) came out victorious in stage 11. Overall we finished fifth in this famous and adventurous race!
I feel really content with these excellent results in a tough and demanding sport.
To date, I have achieved many of my highest goals:
• to race and finish the Rally Raid Paris – Dakar,
• to race a full World Championships for a factory team.
A goal I still dream of attaining is to conquer the Dakar and win!
At present, I am preparing to change my profession as a rally co-driver and become a "world class" coach when it comes to leadership, team buildning and personal development. I do this so that others can become their own champion and navigate their ”roads towards success”,, in order to achieve their individual goals and overcome challenges. At the same time I am starting up some new businesses based of my new home country of Switzerland.
That, for me, implies a new exciting track to stick to.