Team HUMMER: The Importance of Navigators in the Dakar Rally

Charlotte, NC (December 27, 2010) -- In previous releases, we emphasized the importance of the team and equipment. While the Dakar Rally is a test of driving ability, it is sometimes overlooked how important the navigators or co-drivers are in team's overall success. It is the co-driver's role to help the driver navigate around the difficult terrain, preventing the driver from getting lost and losing valuable time. Kellon Walch will be the navigator for Robby Gordon's No. 303 SPEED Energy / Toyo Tires HUMMER this year. This is his second year with Team HUMMER, but his first as Gordon's co-driver. Below are his thoughts on what it takes to be in the passenger seat for the 33rd running of the Dakar Rally.

This is your first year as Robby's navigator, but the second with Team HUMMER. What is like to work with the team?

For me, being a part of such an elite team is an honor and privilege. Robby is constantly trying to improve his chances of winning and has surrounded himself with a lot of talented people who are really good at what they do. Along with talent, the team is full of personality, which is a must for the Dakar Rally. When racing for 15 days straight under a lot of pressure and with everyone being together 24/7, the chance of getting on each other's nerves is very high. Luckily, we have a great team, which actually makes it fun to be together for that long. One thing that stands out in my mind about the RGM team is that nobody is afraid of hard work, and the Dakar Rally takes a lot of work. There is always something to be done, and everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals.

What does being Robby's navigator means to you?

Being Robby's navigator makes me excited because anytime you are involved with Robby you can count on being extremely competitive. Robby is extremely passionate about his racing. It is his goal to win the Dakar Rally. I share that same passion, so my adrenaline is pumping waiting for the race to start.

After the initial excitement of being named as Robby's navigator, my heart stops for a few beats as I realize the responsibility and importance of the job I am expected to do. In the Dakar Rally, a lot of the weight is placed on the navigator's shoulders. The navigator can single handedly be responsible for losing or gaining a lot of time. Many people don't realize how important the navigator is to the driver's performance. As a driver myself, I am looking forward to everything I am going to learn from Robby and all the years of racing experience that he has.

What do your daily roles include and why is this so important?

The biggest daily role in Dakar is collecting the road book for each day, familiarizing yourself with it and then marking it so you can read it while driving across the desert at a hundred miles an hour. You have to look at the notations (drawings) in the road book then try to imagine what the organizers were seeing when they drew it in the road book, then look for the notation in real life, while adjusting your mileage to match up with the notation. If your mileage is off or notations don't match up, you have gone the wrong way and now everything is going to be backwards and mileage will be way off while you try to back track to find the route again. This is where you could lose a lot of time. I have to do all of this while trying to verbally communicate to Robby what's going through my head.

Not only is it my responsibility to get us to the finish each day, but also our safety is in my hands. I learned while doing Dakar on a motorcycle that "the road book will literally save your life." It is imperative that we are very close to being on course and all our mileages are spot on, enabling me to call out the dangers listed in the road book. Rally navigation puts a whole other spin on racing and is just another element in racing the Dakar Rally - an added dimension that can easily "make or break" your outcome.

Some of the other important daily roles include being able to work on the Hummer if needed, knowing when the speed zones start and end so we don't get penalized for speeding. The most important thing is being able to stay calm and smart at all times because any situation that arises will ultimately become critical to our success. I need to be just as focused on day 13 as I was on the first.

What do you do to prepare for the Dakar Rally?

For me, the role of navigator is extremely challenging mentally. You have to be 100% focused at all times during the race. If you have loose attention for two seconds, you could miss a danger, turn or speed zone. You have to be so mentally strong and focused at all times because there is no room for error! I'm sure I will make a mistake or two throughout the 14 stages this year, but I am confident in the decisions I will make. I truly feel that if everything else is going good that I can navigate to get us in the lead and be comfortable keeping us there. I have navigated through Africa, Sahara desert, Russia, China, the Gobi desert, Argentina, Chile and the Atacama Desert. I have a good idea what the race is going to take mentally, and I am confident in my abilities. It's tough to prepare for this mentally. The Dakar Rally is unlike anything in the world. At some point, this race will test you to the core and will cause your true character to come out. I think this is definitely one of my strong points. I am honored that Robby has chosen to put me in the Hummer with him. I can't wait to earn his trust and prove to him that he has made a good decision.

Yes, the Baja 1000 helped, especially getting a little seat time with Robby and working on our communication as driver and navigator. I really think pre-running for the 1000 is good preparation for Dakar. Just logging a lot of miles in the seat for days at a time. Other preparation for me includes racing my own race truck here in the states in the Best in the Desert off road series, where I just won the series championship in my class for the second year in a row. I also work for a company called Wide Open Nevada, which does off road racecar tours through the Nevada desert. I logged a lot of time and miles in the desert while doing this and you always have some interesting issues that arise with customers that you have to figure out how to fix in the middle of the desert.

What does the Dakar Rally mean to you?

There is nothing in the world like Dakar. You can try all day to explain it to someone who has never been, but one has to go to really experience it. Once you catch the "spirit" of Dakar, you are hooked, and I have been hooked ever since I raced in my first Dakar Rally in 2005 on a motorcycle. I won a stage and wanted to get on top of the podium. No American has ever won the Dakar Rally on a bike or in a car, and I have been extremely motivated ever since to change that. Injuries forced me to be unable to return again on a motorcycle. But this year as part Team HUMMER and especially with Robby driving, I think we have a good chance of accomplishing this goal. I love being in the desert, I love racing, and I love the Dakar Rally.

-source: team hummer