Sport: Rallying (co-driver)
Clubs: Cyprus Automobile Association /
Cyprus Motorsport Federation
3 Favourite Things: Horses, Cars, Music
Fun fact: If we only meet once, I won't necessarily remember your name, but I will remember your car's number plate...!
Meet DECEMBER'S Athlete!
Interview by Natalie Christopher
CYPRUS GIRLS CAN chats with Alexandra to find out all about how she got into rallying, a sport with very low female participation, particularly in Cyprus.
Natalie: Hi Alexandra, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today!
Tell us how you fell in love with cars and racing!
Alexandra: When I was 16, I would cycle my bike to Eleftheria Square every Friday to buy Autosport as soon as it came out, get a packet of Skittles and return home to read all about racing. It was something of a ritual and it had me hooked.
I was mesmerised by speed,
I found it to be such a noble undertaking.
By 17, I became a motorsport journalist and founded F1 & Car magazine together with the two Formula 1 commentators at the time. It was the first Cypriot publication for F1. You have to remember that this was before the internet became widely accessible, so you really had to go out there and research your field to know about it.
A lot of people in my family were actually involved in rally driving; my dad, mum and uncle all raced. Dad won the Cyprus Speed Championship three consecutive years and is considered a legend in Cyprus. Mum had always liked cars too. When she met my dad, it gave her the opportunity to really get into the sport and do some rally racing herself.
N: How common is it for women to be involved in rally driving?
A: Generally speaking, the history behind women’s involvement in motorsport is not very inspiring.
Although we have had some amazing female drivers, such as Pat Moss and Michele Mouton grace the world of rally, it is generally not an easy environment for us e.g. a female racing driver has a much harder time finding sponsors than a man.
Companies aimed at men will invest in men
and companies aimed at women will not sponsor motorsport.
It’s not their target audience.
Add to that the very high physical demands of single seater racing and you can understand why we don’t see female drivers in Formula 1.
N: How about here? What is the current situation with regards to women in motorsports in Cyprus?
A: Without meaning to blanket cover the issue
– because there are more and more exceptions to the “rule” –
a boy born in Cyprus is expected to drive well. It’s a given. They will practice as soon as they’re old enough, to prove a point.
Women, on the other hand, don’t have this motivation.
It’s not surprising then, that not many women go as far as to take part in motorsport.
However, the good news is that the past five years have seen more and more women coming into the sport. I’m not entirely sure what sparked this avalanche in interest. It may be because of the exposure of social media. For example...
I work in our family run shop, C. Phasarias Automotive Centre Ltd, which sells tuning and motorsport equipment. Working there gives me an insight into how many women in Cyprus are taking up the sport. I usually get the chance to meet them before they even start, as they come in to buy equipment. I’m glad to say I see more and more women getting involved.
N: Tell us about how you got into racing!
A: For a certain period, I used to race in karting – that was great fun. Someone I knew lent me their kart and once I drove it round the track, I was hooked, so I bought my own
What do I do in the car?
People often ask..
Am I there to balance the car’s weight?
Am I there to keep the driver company?
Am I there to read maps?
In reality, I do none of these things!
A co-driver essentially coordinates the team outside of the special stages (races) and in the actual stages, reads pace notes [a kind of specialised shorthand] to the driver
N: So how did you make the leap from kart racing to rally co-driving?
A: I started co-driving in 2007, and let me tell you, I mostly did it because I didn’t have to worry about being underweight in a rally car!
It all came about when a customer at the shop semi-joked
“Why you don’t you be my co-driver?”
and then it progressed from joking about it, to actually doing it.
To help me get started, I contacted a friend who was a veteran co-driver. We went through the art of preparing pace notes together. A year later, my friend Odysseas bought himself a Subaru Impreza rally car, and I’ve been co-driving for him since.
Before I started co-driving,
people in rally would always refer to me as Christos’ daughter.
I’m happy to say that this has changed now
and I’m Alexandra again.
If women see other women competing, this has the power to change their mentality and normalise something that didn’t use to be “normal”.
They start to think
Maybe I can do this too”.
Familiarity breeds initiative, in a way.
if a driver loses visibility,
they should still be able to drive the car at full speed just based on the directions they’re receiving from their co-driver.
This has happened, by the waY,
I’ve seen rally cars pop their bonnets open in the actual stage and still finish it!
the Role of the co-driver
Patt Moss (left), a British rally driver, was one of the most successful female auto rally drivers of all time, achieving three outright wins and seven podium finishes in international rallies. She was crowned European Ladies' Rally Champion five times.*
Michèle Mouton (right) is a French former rally driver. Competing in the World Rally Championship for the Audi factory team, she took four victories and finished runner-up in the drivers' World Championship in 1982. She is still the last woman to compete in top-level rallying.*
It is the co-driver’s job to convey instructions to the driver, so they will know how close to the limit they can go at any given moment.
N: What does being a rally co-driver entail?
A: I read the pace notes during the rally in the way the driver wants to hear them to understand them. It really is a working relationship.
If we are coming up to a turn, I will announce the severity of the turn and then the direction, plus the distance until the turn and then additional information if needed.
The way we have agreed is that I classify severity of turns as follows:
1 is a hairpin, while a 5 is a slight deviation in road. Other people may do the other way around, from 5 to 1. It’s up to you to work out what is best.
N: Your family must have been ok with you starting co-driving, considering their history of involvement?
A: Actually no, my dad was against it! I think he thought it was too dangerous, especially when he heard I’d be co-driving and wouldn’t actually be behind the wheel.
At some point he started telling me that rallying was dangerous, when my mum interrupted him and reminded him that his own mother had expressed the same concerns back when he was rallying, which he totally ignored!
Yes, ok, there is an element of danger, but not as much as the old days of rallying. Many new safety measures have been implemented which make rallying safer than driving on public roads.
For example I will say
“150 right 2, don’t cut”,
which is my driver’s preference to being told:
there are 150 metres before a turning to the right, which is tight, and don’t cut the corner because there might be rocks, or a ditch, or something.
I had no support. I had to change my own tyres and mix my own fuel.
Because I was 25kg below the allowed weight (in karting, the lighter the better), I had to attach 25kg to my seat... This was quite difficult to ballast, the kart lost all handling, and it became so heavy that we had difficulty even lifting it on the repair stand.
In a rally car we have all sorts of safety measures, such as a:
a central fire extinguishing system
head and necks support (HANS) to prevent neck injury
motorsport grade harness
fireproof clothing etc.
N: How do you think we can address this misperception? What advice do you have for other women in Cyprus?
A: If you want to do something, just try it!
Don’t let gender be an issue, as it doesn’t automatically qualify you or disqualify you from trying out new things. The interview we’re doing right now certainly helps, and I applaud you for this initiative. Who knows, if even one woman can be inspired to get herself involved in cars, I call that a win! The more the better.
N: How many female co-drivers are there in Cyprus?
A: There are around 6 or 7 in the Southern part of the island who are active at the moment. There are a few more that occasional rally. I’m not so sure about on the other side of the island. We even have a female Cyprus Champion co-driver, Elena Pieri!
N: How does your husband see your involvement?
A: My husband doesn’t really have an interest in cars, but he’s a photographer and he will go to the interesting spots on the route to take good photos during a competition. He doesn’t have the need to prove anything to me. People often ask him if it bothers him that his wife knows more about cars than he does. To this he replies, why should he mind?
N: Tell me about some other things you like to do.A: Asides from rallying, I game, I listen to heavy metal and I volunteer in animal rescue. Come to think of it, a lot of the things I do are traditionally “non girly” I guess… I’m quite used to being in a male dominated environment!
N: Why did you chose to become a Co-Driver and not a Rally Driver?
A: It wasn’t a choice, really. I didn’t have the means to buy a rally car, this could cost anywhere from 10 to 50,000 Euros. When the offer to co-drive came up, I said sure!
In the words of World Rally Champion co-driver Phil Mills:
Being a rally co-driver is like being
in charge of a very fast, mobile office!
N: How do men in the sport treat you?
A: I’ll answer this question with respect both to men involved in the sport and men outside it.
A lot of people involved in the sport already knew me through the family business, so they were not so surprised to see me on the scene. I wouldn’t say I’m “one of the boys” – I disagree with that expression. I’m part of the gang, so to speak.
"there’s a woman in the car. They’re going to crash."
It was at one of my first rallies, when we were on the ramp, about to start, when I heard those words.
A 5 year-old boy had spotted me. He said this quite loudly... He probably heard his parents make that comment.
It’s so sad that this gender disparity is engrained in people from such a young age.
You know what, yes, at some point you will crash. And it will teach you something. It’s inevitable. It’s just like falling off a bike when you’re learning how to ride. I really can’t think of a single rally crew that didn’t go through a shunt at some point in their career. It’s all part of driving at the absolute limit.
Odysseas has had people come up to him and joke to him that he’s letting a woman boss him around in the car.
His reply: “Alexandra has more balls than all of you.”
When I heard him say that, I answered that I really don’t see how balls are the measure for being brave or assertive.
If anything, balls are very sensitive!
The funniest example is when a guy walked into our shop. I was at my office and my dad was out for errands. He looks around and asks
‘Is there no-on here to assist me?’
I put my hand up, to say,
“Yes, me. I’m here, tell me what you need”.
He interpreted my hand gesture that I was pointing to him to go upstairs for help.
It didn’t even occur to him that I might be able to offer assistance.
N: What would your advice be to other women who would like to get into motorsport?
A: I have a simple message:
Thinking about doing something and actually doing something is just one action apart.
Go watch races. Talk to people. Volunteer.
That’s how I got into it.
You don’t need experience to volunteer.
Ask around, there are lots of people willing to help someone who’s just starting out.
Then get a car, and go out and practice, practice, practice.
In terms of practical information, the minimum age to become a rally driver is 18 and you must have a driving licence. To be a co-driver the same applies, as the co-driver has to be able to drive the car if something happens to the driver. To obtain your Competition Licence you have to take part in three Novice rallies.
Getting into track racing is even easier than rallying! In track racing, you can use any car, you can rent the track at Achna Speedway for example, and you just go and drive around and get into it.
N: Do you have any aspirations to be a driver yourself?
I’ve fallen in love with co-driving, and I still can’t afford a rally car!
But I don’t feel like co-driving is a lesser task.
In order to be a co-driver, you yourself need to be able to drive well.
You’re essentially dictating to the driver how he must tackle turns.
You must also be able to coordinate quite a lot of things.
I also feel that the co-driver also has to play the role of a psychologist. You have to work out how to develop a good working relationship with the driver. I will change the way I read my pacenotes to Odysseas, for example, if I sense he’s being hesitant and he needs encouragement. If I get the feeling that he is going beyond his limits, I will reign him in.
N: Is there a season in rally driving?
A: Not really, although there is a break during the summer. This is Cyprus, it gets too hot!
The next event is the OFA Trial Rallysprint, on December 16-17.
For more information, check out:
The Cyprus Motorsports Federation
The Cyprus Rally is the big rally of the year (caa)
It counts as one round of the Middle eastern championship
Thank you for sharing your interesting story Alexandra!
All the very best for the future and CYPRUS GIRLS CAN wishes you good luck in your rallying career!