AMERICA’S Cup sailor Jimmy Spithill emerged from his maiden voyage aboard a Skoda Fabia R5 rally car with a grin and a swift appraisal: “There’s a lot more dust than I get in my day job!”
The Australian star of the sailing world had taken the opportunity to fulfil a lifetime ambition to climb aboard a top-level rally car at the sport’s pinnacle.
Now helmsman on the Luna Rosa Prada Pirelli boat out of Cagliari, and bound for Auckland and the 2021 America’s Cup, Spithill took a morning off the water to join Fabio Andolfi’s Motorsport Italia squad at the Rally Italia Sardegna shakedown stage.
“I thought I could drive fast,” he told wrc.com, “but on the dirt, I didn’t even know what Fabio did was possible. That was just at another level.
“When I was young I remember waking up early to watch the rallies on TV. Being on a farm, I’d be in some beat-up car driving around the paddock pretending to be Colin McRae. But this was something special.”
Despite the obvious differences between the two sports, Spithill admitted he could draw comparisons.
“A well set-up boat is fast and needs to be stable,” he said. “And rally cars are the same. You need to push, push, push, but be there at the end of the weekend.
“And the g-forces are similar. Now we’re foiling (a process which involves the hull of the boat rising out of the water onto the hydrofoils beneath) we’re getting a lot of speed out of the boat.
“Obviously, you’re strapped into the car and you feel part of the car, whereas we have to brace ourselves against something on the boat, but the movement’s similar.
“Communication is key in both disciplines. It was quite loud in the car, but you have an intercom. On the boat it’s tough. Electrics don’t like sea water and trying to make yourself heard can be a challenge when you can have windspeed of 80mph and the water’s hitting you in the face.
“But the need for communication is so important. The co-driver is all about anticipation and what’s ahead. We’re the same, always looking for the dark patches on the water and the fastest way forward.”