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Tom's Hardware Talks To Champion Rally Drivers About Technology

Subaru Rally Team Co-Driver: Craig Drew

Tom's Hardware: Your role as a co-driver is typically to help the driver navigate and monitor vehicle vitals. How does technology help with this?

Craig Drew: As with most things in the modern age, technology has done a lot to advance the art of rally co-driving. Although the basics are unchanged, and are unlikely to change too much in the future, certain aspects are enhanced by the tech component. To be a successful rally co-driver, you must be very organized, have excellent communication skills, and obviously possess advanced navigational skills. All three of these qualifications can be bolstered by technology: computer programs to organize and store event information files, a wide-range of communication options, such as email and social networks, and navigational aids like Google Maps and Google Earth.

As far as vehicle diagnostics go, I am able to scroll through twelve different screens of information at any time, on the road transits or on a competitive stage, thanks to an advanced system within our Subaru rally car. The information provided to me by this system ranges from engine and exhaust temperatures, to coolant and oil pressures and temperatures, to an accurate trip meter that lets me program stage lengths and counts down how long we have left in each stage. If there is an issue with the car, the co-driver screen flashes red and instantly conveys the fault, allowing me to tell the driver within seconds.

Tom's Hardware: So, we're going to ask you some of the same questions we asked David. First of all, new driver assist technologies, such as lane departure, braking, and active park assist are becoming more mainstream and accessible. How do you feel about these high-tech nannies?

Craig Drew

Craig Drew: I think they are great for many folks, although I personally am not a fan of each and every one of them. When it comes to driving any vehicle, you are the person in control and you are the one responsible for the actions of your vehicle. Certain driver aid, however, have changed the dynamics of driving for the better, to the point where we can no longer imagine driving without them. ABS, power steering, and even central locking. But, at the same time, I think that there are some technologies that aren't needed. If you need assistance changing lanes safely, should you really be driving at all? [Laughs]

Tom's Hardware: Would you trust those technologies to keep your vehicle in control over your own driving capabilities?

Craig Drew: No. I consider myself to be a safe driver and to have good knowledge of the roads. So, I would always trust my own judgment over that of a computer. That's not to say I wouldn't welcome some assistance once in a while, though.

Tom's Hardware: Do you think technological advancements place less emphasis on the driver's role in driving?

Craig Drew: It depends on the individual. As with most technology, there are varying degrees to which people use or depend on it, and the same can be said when it comes to driving. I know friends who wouldn't drive anywhere without their SAT NAV, whereas I prefer to depend on good old-fashioned maps! You can exploit driving technology as much as you see fit.

Tom's Hardware: Technology takes so many different forms, and GPS, communications, data acquisition, and even mechanical design can also be tech-oriented. Can you walk us through some of the tools you use to help you do what you love even better?

The cockpit of the rally Subaru

Craig Drew: Before an event, the Internet is my main tool for acquiring information. David and myself research the event as much as possible, studying the stage times from previous years, watching on-board footage on YouTube, and downloading the event information from previous years. Being from the UK, and competing in the American National Championship, we obviously can't travel to the area we are about to compete in to get a feel for the landscape and geography. And so I utilize Google Earth and Google Maps to plot stage information and hotel locations, which I then print and download to distribute to David and the team. Our team manager does the same thing to double-check all of that information is correct. There is also more emphasis placed on social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to share pre-event information. All of the events in the Rally America National Championship have their own Facebook page and Twitter account, and frequently update them with relevant information for the event, including links to their websites to download information.

During an event, we use GoPro cameras to record our pre-event reconnaissance run and then transfer the data card to our laptops and external hard drives to review before we start the event. During the actual event, we carry cameras in the car, which can be used afterward to analyze our performance, along with the detailed telemetry recorded by the car.

Tom's Hardware: We do a lot of performance testing with some of the racing games out there like DiRT and F1. Do the physics and handling characteristics of the most popular game titles come anywhere close to what you experience behind the wheel?

Craig Drew: No. I used to play Formula One games a lot, and I considered myself to be pretty good. But then, one day, as part of the British Rally Elite scheme I was selected for, we had the chance to tour the Williams Formula One factory and do a couple of laps on their full-blown and super-accurate race simulators that their drivers use to learn tracks. The difference between the two was huge, and something that you simply wouldn't be able to re-create for a mainstream audience. Essentially, you are comparing a $50 game with a $3,000,000 simulator!

Tom's Hardware: Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what are you playing?

Craig Drew: I don't play games as much as I used to. But as you can imagine, when I do, I like driving games. I play any rally driving games, such as DiRT 3 and WRC3, but my favorite is F1 2012.

Tom's Hardware: Do you consider yourself a tech geek?

Craig Drew: To be honest, I'm not a tech geek. Whilst I appreciate the latest technology and the ingenuity in making it, I don't need the latest kit in my everyday life. I'm happy with the basics.

Tom's Hardware: What pieces of technology do you have on you at all times?

Craig Drew: I always have my iPhone with me, and whenever I travel I always take my iPad, laptop, and external hard drive. I have a young daughter at home, and so I try to Skype my family every day when I am away.

Tom's Hardware: Lastly, what's your daily driver?

Craig Drew: A 2010 Citroën Xsara Picasso mini-van. After all, I'm now a family man!

  • C12Friedman
    Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography
    Reply
  • amuffin
    Ken Block WR8 FLUX!
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540426 said:
    Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography

    We try to spice things up and it was a good and fun opportunity.

    I felt a little inadequate running around with a micro 4/3s camera (Panasonic GH2) and a couple primes (Olympus 45mm & Panasonic 25mm) while everyone had D800s, but quite happy with the photo results.

    9540427 said:
    What?! No Bill Caswell?

    He wasn't at the Olympus Rally.
    Reply
  • tiret
    Quote: "Rally Enthusiasts Are A Lot Like PC Enthusiasts..."

    as these rally enthusiasts are all apple fan boys and Toms regulars are mostly not, I'm not so sure about that sentiment.

    good article though.
    Reply
  • Yuka
    Nice, nice, nice, nice.

    Kudos, Toms!

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • Ken Block a rally driver? LOL. Take a look at his WRC competition record and have a laugh. He should stick to making videos that wow the masses sheeple who don't know that real drivers have no need for such spectacles.
    Reply
  • Wisecracker
    The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing.

    Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :)

    I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?


    Reply
  • RodolfoKSP
    What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540435 said:
    What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?

    Because Richard Burns Rally was last released in 2004, and Dirt and F1 are have more recent releases. And no we're not getting payed to mention Dirt or F1, they're just two recent racing games we at Tom's Hardware quite enjoy. Nothing against iRacing, its really cool and all but not as recognizable to the average PC gamer.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540434 said:
    The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing.

    Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :)

    I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?

    Call me crazy, but I would love to rally a manual Subaru Justy 4WD for shits and giggles.
    Reply