Courtesy of Sharon Cox
Keanna Erickson-Chang has made impressive strides in stage Rally career completing 2019 America Rally Association (ARA), Rally in France and World Rally Championship in Wales (JWRC) racing Ford Fiesta R2T and Clio R3T.
Capping off busy racing calender, Keanna makes time for analysis of driving on where improvements can be made, reviews communications with co-driver to elevate race performance and to boot, shares Motorsport knowledge and experiences with young students in America’s F1 In Schools- a STEM based programme.
If any partnership was crucial for stage rally racing it is driver and co-driver. Notwithstanding Team pit crew, Keanna and co-driver are in the hot seat, behind the wheel, navigating stages, communicating from pace-notes completed from previous recce tests.
Keanna: ‘The driver and co-driver relationship is crucial in the car. Sometimes the trust comes immediately, and other times it takes more time to build this relationship. I have had both experiences, and also once or twice where the flow never properly came about. It takes far more focus to work with someone for the first time’.
‘For example, if there is something I want to add to my pacenotes on our second pass of recce, I would be dictating the entire corner back, with the change positioned where I want it. When you have experience working with someone, these changes become much more second-nature’.
Eliminating “repeats” and getting my notes sooner are two things that I would typically be working in with a new-to-me co-driver. On stage, I might say “okay” to a note that I do not want a repeat on, or “next” to speed up the note-calling, but largely this is a conversation that would happen before getting in the car in the first place’.
It was competing in Olmpus Rally in France that Keanna alluded to altering details in pace-notes system. For the young 24 year old born native from Killington, Vermont, Keanna wanted greater precision within the established 1-6 pace-notes, and re-worked system to suit.
Keanna: “Earlier this week, I alluded to something else new for Olympus… a completely revamped pacenote system. It’s logical that my pacenotes have run 1-6, as that’s how the organizer/Jemba notes come here in the USA’.
‘You might remember that I changed my system last year as well, moving from direction/severity to severity first (R4 to 4R). This change wasn’t a small one but was quite easy to adapt to, as it felt much more natural to me.”
‘Racing in France, I felt that I was missing something in the medium speed corners. I changed from a 1-6 to a 1-8 system to work on correcting this. I took to it without too much difficulty… but I still don’t know that I’ve completely corrected my problem yet’.
‘The second rally in France still felt like something was missing, even with the additional severities, so I’m still working on pinpointing where I feel like I’m lacking information. My switch last year of severity and direction was something that I thought would be good for me ever since I was just starting in rally’.
‘However, we all had organiser-supplied notes at the time and events weren’t really offering two-pass recce, so it wasn’t the easiest change to make. Eventually, I pulled the trigger and things became so much easier. It seems strange (but I’ve met many rally drivers who will say the same), telling left from right is difficult! Having direction come after the severity of the corner allows me (personally) to not get “stuck” on the direction. I am able to focus on the speed of the corner first and then take in the direction’.
Now racing Keanna’s 4th Rally Championship in America, what has been most pleasing about success gained and what are challenges still to overcome?
Keanna: ‘There’s nothing better than the excitement of girls spotting a woman out playing with the boys! That’s probably my favourite success. Some of my others are the smaller things, like winning a stage that has treated me poorly in the past. I’ve shown good pace and had some top-ten stage times in the past year, but consistently keeping that pace has been difficult for me, so it’s a work in progress.
‘One big challenge for me coming from wheel-to-wheel racing has been the aspect of not being around the competition while racing, and being able to see where you have been stronger or weaker. It’s a bit ironic because I’m more competitive with myself than my competitors, so you’d think that the intrinsic nature of rallying would fit my personality better!’
For certain, Keanna’s strength of character speaks volumes on her professionalism on and off the race track. Not only does Keanna display confidence pre-during and post racing, the tenacious stage rally driver thinks outside the box to develop personal and professional growth for enhancing race performance.
Management of Race Team, getting grasp of organization details of rally events, along with sharing knowledge and experience with students at F1 in Schools programme highlights Keanna’s personality in action. It is without doubt, Keanna’s perceptive mind zeroes in on where to put her best talents to use, not just for the betterment of her career, but also for helping young, aspiring athletes reach for goals of success in chosen sporting career.
Keanna: ‘Managing a multi-car team really taught me to multi-task and to know the rules and how to work within them. As a result, many of my co-drivers have said I’m one of the most attentive drivers that they’ve worked with in that regard’.
‘Towards the end of when I was managing, I also had the chance to help out on the organizational side of things with the series we competed with, and it makes you much more understanding and appreciative of how complex it all is. I recently had my first experience on that side of stage rally, working an ATC, and that gives you a lot of perspective… seeing things from the other side’.
‘F1 in Schools is a fantastic program. I’m always in awe of what these kids are achieving at their age! It also teaches many important life skills outside of the motorsport industry. Understanding the industry from all of the different roles I’ve taken on gives me a perspective different to others, who are mostly educators, at the USA competitions. For example, the ability to illustrate real-life scenarios to the students in order to demonstrate a decision or rule’.
‘It’s so important that we nurture the next generation of talent. For students interested in motorsport as a career, it’s a great resource, particularly in the USA where motorsport engineering programs are few and far between. Doing well at Worlds can really propel a career in the industry and provide contacts and opportunities that may not have been available otherwise’.
Writers note: special thanks to Keanna for her time for interview.