Borja Rozada and the technical role of a WRC codriver

When we talk about the technical side of the WRC we use to talk about engineers and drivers, but never about codrivers. It is well known their role with the stage notes and the team organization, but very little about their role in the technics. To go into more detail, we contacted an experienced codriver, who has played an important role this year in the WRC, besides Dani Sordo. Borja Rozada has taken part in more than 260 events in his life (more than 40 in the WRC) in all types of vehicles, from the classic Subaru Impreza/Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, the Peugeot 208 and Fiat Punto Grande, to different R5 cars (Škoda Fabia and Citroën C3), some pre-2017 WRC (Ford Fiesta and Citroën DS3) and this year the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC. And whom, fortunately, we will see back in action in the Rally Catalunya that starts in a few days.

D.Sordo/B.Rozada, Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, Safari Rally Kenya 2021, 12th – image by Austral, copyright Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

On stage

We know that you devote many hours to recces and to watch stage videos, but we know little about codriver implication on technics. To start with, how do you prepare for a rally, on a technical level?

Before each rally, we have a meeting with at least the engineers, the team manager and the tyres specialist, and we decide about the strategy. If the engineers have not taken part in the recce, we inform them about road conditions for each stage. Then, we prepare a plan for each stage. Depending on whether the terrain is flat, rough or dirt, we all decide about ride height, spring hardness, anti-roll bar and tyres.  Having a pre-established plan gives you peace of mind, as it allows you to get it out of your head.

B.Guerra jr/B.Rozada, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, Rally Catalunya 2014, 18th

Once on the stage, when you are reading the notes, can you feel how the car is behaving?

I don’t have a special sensitivity, while other codrivers have (or that is what I have been told). What I feel is the rhythm that we are having. It always happens that, the worst is the rhythm you have on the stage (less comfortable with the driving and the notes), the worst is your feeling about how the car is behaving. As for technical changes, I can notice when we have done big modifications, such as spring replacement, removal of the anti-roll bar, testing a new set of dampers. Also, when the car seems to lose traction or at a certain pothole. For the rest, changes such as suspension settings or central differential modifications, are the driver who perceives the effect.

Do you discuss these details with the driver during the stage?

The driver usually explains his sensations, for instance, it is getting worse, or the car slides or we are losing brakes. We also often talk about issues with the tyres, about temperature, compound chosen and degradation. For instance, with Pepe López in 2020 (with the R5) in long and abrasive stages we used to have tyre issues, and any time I detected that we were losing rhythm, we discussed what was the problem with the tyres. We don’t usually talk too technical, but about sensations and rythm.

Borja Rozada, Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, Rally de Portugal 2021, 2nd – image by Vincent Thuillier, copyright Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

When you finish the stage, what actions do you take?

The first thing I do is check tyre pressures, to have an idea about how much have they changed and to decide if they need to be modified for the next stage. Next is to get the information on different parameters of the car from the dash and send it all to the team (by whatsapp). Then, we call the engineer and we share our impressions with him. Based on that, the engineer can propose some modifications for the next stage, or sometimes is the own driver who proposes, based on his own ideas. In the current cars (WRC/Rally2), the modifications we can do between stages include ride height, anti-rollbar stiffness, suspension settings and tyres, as well as centre differential for WRC cars. These cars are not only very fast but very sensitive to changes, so it is very important to make all the required changes to have the optimal configuration for each stage.

I heard you in an interview that one of the things that most surprised you from WRC cars is the high amount of work you have in-between stages.

Yes, there is so much to modify that you never have time to relax. And, as stages are hardly similar, you’re continuously doing modifications to the car. Even on the second pass: if there are ruts, you have to change the ride height, suspension settings,… And the tyres. With all the stress the WRC tyres are subjected to, you have to change tyres before all stages, playing with the 5 or 6 available. So, you have to calculate, before each stage, if the time available is enough for all the changes you plan to do. For instance, in the Hyundai, doing modifications in the anti-roll bar is feasible but takes some time, and not always have time enough to do them. Thus, you have to prioritise.

P.López/B.Rozada, Citroën C3 WRC, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2020, retired – image by Karel Porsch – ewrc-results.com

In such a difficult event like Rallye Monte-Carlo, things must be even more complicated, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s crazy there. Add to these so sensitive cars the changing conditions, the multiple options of tyres available (higher than in any other event) and the possibility of tyre cross fitting… It is the event where more tyre combinations are possible, so we are busier there than anywhere else.

Aerodynamics

What was your first impression the first day you got into the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC?

The main sensation for me was the fact that the faster you go, the higher air pushes the car against the road, both in the rear wing and in the dive planes, and especially on gravel, as in tarmac, with the mechanical grip, all is different. The cars are really powerful, but old WRC cars also were. Where you can feel a bigger difference is in the fast corners, you can feel how the car gets stuck against the road, and it is the same while braking.

The car is very agile in the slow portions, but on the fast, it is very well balanced. For the drivers, the biggest difference with respect to old cars is also aerodynamics. That’s why it is now so important not to lose any aero part. For instance, in the Arctic Rally Finland, drivers had no major concern about losing rear fender vents when hitting against snowbanks, but were very careful not to lose dive planes. The consequence was a loss of grip at the front, resulting in less precision in the corners. Also, these parts are really expensive and very important for the car behaviour. For this reason, in the mechanical training we learned how to replace them, in preparation for fast events such as Finland, Estonia or the Arctic Rally Finland.

D.Sordo/B.Rozada, Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, Rally de Portugal 2021, 2nd – image by Nacho Mateo / Motoresport.cat

Stage notes

In terms of stage notes, what is the impact of such advanced aerodynamics on them?

It allows you to go flat out in portions where you couldn’t go before. For instance, in some fast portions of Catalunya or Germany, Dani and Quique Ojeda (his former ouvrier) often discussed bout the speed to have at certain points, and Dani always defended that, with the aero of the current WRC, you could go flat-out in most of these points.

Does such high speed have an impact on your body, is it harder?

The car is physically demanding, but it is not so different from previous car generations. The bacquets are tailor-made but not padded, they have foam. It is rigid but fits perfectly well to your body, so it is relatively comfortable. You end up really tired because of the higher stress and so many hours, so you need it to be comfortable.

How does it all affect reading notes?

There is something good: in a current WRC you have no time to think because the car does it everything well (acceleration, braking, turning or going over a pothole). Even in tight corners, the car shoots off, so you have to keep a very high rhythm. It is different from an R5 car, which in some medium portions takes some time to reaccelerate and you have to deal with concentration and uncertainty. With the WRC everything comes so fast that you have no time to relax, it is high intensity from the start to the last meter. 

Borja Rozada, Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, Rally de Portugal 2021, 2nd – image by Vincent Thuillier, copyright Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Testing

With Hyundai, you have participated in some testing sessions. What was your mission then, what was the role of the codriver?

Some days before the test you receive the test plan with all the modifications to be evaluated. So, on the day of the test, right after the first run, you enter into a meeting with all the engineers (telemetry, transmission, engine, tyres,….) and you discuss about the run, your feedback and the modifications for the next run. And you keep doing it for the next 8 to 10 hours. At WRC level, tests are pretty much intensive, as they are very expensive and there is so much to test.

In my case, after each run, I record all the modifications we have tested, the time set (even though the team also records it with), so I can inform the driver and have his feedback. Then we discuss about the time, the changes and the stage conditions. I record all this is in a report (also the team prepares one), so we can come back to it any time we want to know how a certain modification worked. Details such as the suitability of the stage selected, the tyres or the amount of gasoline in each run, everything is recorded and analyzed. At the end of the test, with the feedback of all drivers involved, conclusions are drawn.

Is the codriver’s opinion taken into account?

I’m asked about many things. It also depends on the character of the driver and the codriver, but some engineers ask about everything. Sometimes the driver gives his opinion about the car’s behaviour at a certain point, and you as codriver give also your impression. For instance, when you test with two spare wheels to see the impact on the car, the car becomes oversteering, and this is something you easily perceive, so you’re asked about it. Also about codriver’s more specific details. In Kenya we tested things like the watersplash button (to avoid water entering into the engine), closing it at different times, to optimise its operation to minimise time lose.

It is an impressive level of detail, isn’t it?
Yes, I have been rallying for more than twenty years, and what I have learned this year is amazing, it is like I was doing a different sport. That’s why these cars are so fast because all details are brought to the limit.

D.Sordo/B.Rozada, Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, Rally Italia Sardegna 2021, 17th – image by Romain Thuillier, copyright Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Any advice for other codrivers that, like you, have to jump into a WRC for the first time?

Luckily there’s a lot of information available now, but my advice is to study and prepare it as best as possible. As a codriver, the further you go, the easier things seem, because you have more people helping in the teams, but also more responsibility and more pressure. And I encourage them to ask everybody about everything, don’t be shy to ask. Amongst WRC co-drivers, questions are asked without a problem, we are all human and we all screw up. And surprisingly, there is a very good atmosphere. The championship is very hard, there’s a lot of pressure and we all stay far from home for many days, so everybody understands the other’s situation, and you can feel it.

D.Sordo/B.Rozada, Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC, Rally de Portugal 2021, 2nd – image by Nacho Mateo / Motoresport.cat

The collaboration between Dani Sordo and Borja Rozada started in Rally Portugal 2021, with an impressive second final position (after leading the rally most of the first day, and having set several scratch) and ended up after Rally Sardegna 2021. But we are sure that we will soon find Borja again inside a WRC car. A good starting point, we will see him this week in Rally Catalunya, together with Pepe López, in a Škoda Fabia Evo Rally2. Big thank you, Borja Rozada, for your disposition and collaboration, and best of lucks for you in the future!

P.López/B.Rozada, Škoda Fabia Evo Rally2, Rally Catalunya 2021 pre event test – image by Rallye Team Spain

4 thoughts on “Borja Rozada and the technical role of a WRC codriver

  • 2021-10-13 at 06:12
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    It’s funny how well-learnt those in the car must be in rallying. Do you think if the regulations permit it, they’ll take a dedicated mechanic and put him in a centrally-positioned third seat (like a McLaren F1) in the car? I assume they can buy a lot of repair time with one…

    Reply
    • 2021-10-20 at 21:11
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      Hahaha… No, that is not possible, maybe in the old times, but the rally philosophy is that the crew has to be self-sufficient

      Reply
  • 2021-10-17 at 17:32
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    Really, really good, lot of things we can’t read anywhere, well done !

    Reply
    • 2021-10-17 at 18:14
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      Thank you very much, we really enjoyed preparing it, so double reward!!

      Reply

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