Mauricio Neves, one of Brazil’s best Rally Drivers, is in trouble.
He currently sits at 4th place in the league after crashing out of two of his races. In order to scramble to a 3rd place finish for the year he has to win the next two races.
In addition, his company, ProMacchina is out in full force at this rally, bringing a stable of six cars that are competing in three divisions. A noted perfectionist, Mauricio has to balance the responsibilities of his team with his desire to have the perfect setup for his car.
So considering all his demands, you’d expect Mauricio to fit the clenched fist, locked jaw, ultra-serious stereotype of a racer.
You’d be wrong.
Despite an extremely long drive and a weekend packed full of responsibilities, the first thing Mauricio did when reaching the racers hotel was order a drink and regal the other drivers with the story of his drive over (chronicled here).
The next day, he continued a similar pattern of socialization - joking with direct competitors, chatting with the race marshal and floating from team to team catching up with everyone. Even during his “recce” run to make notes of the course, he pulled over with other teams to talk about how ludicrous the final stage was.
And that gets to the reality of rally drivers. While they may be extremely intense, highly focused machines while racing, rally drivers are really just people who love to take cars down dirt roads at high speeds.
Since the only people that racers like Mauricio can share their experiences with are other rally drivers, it makes sense that the herd of drivers crowding the hotel bar resembles a group of old friends getting back together.
In addition, the design of rally races even encourages such comradery. Since these races take place on narrow dirt roads that wind over 10, 20, or even 30 kilometers, it’s next-to-impossible to have two cars on the course at the same time. As a result, cars are released one by one and are ranked by their times.
The indirect style of competition means that usual conflicts over collisions are absent and any mistakes are the driver’s fault alone. Combine that with the dangers of taking a car at 120, 140 km/h down tree lined dirt roads, and it’s easy to have respect for each other.
Mauricio’s friendly, outgoing demeanor mixes well with this mutual respect, making rally races not only a chance to race, but a place to meet up with friends he hasn’t seen in a month or two.
As for the race, Mauricio and Leandro Ferrarini, his longtime co-driver, flat out won the rally. They were a well-oiled machine, recovering from a front axle break and winning six out of the seven stages.
You didn’t have to look at the times to know that they were the fastest. Their car was visibly quicker than others, throwing up the largest plume of dust, launching the highest off of jumps and taking corners the fastest. He even pulled the legendary Scandinavian flick to place the car around a tricky right hand corner that fed directly into a bridge.
But the most telling moments were at the awards ceremony right after the race. Despite the intense competition hours before, the drivers were back mingling with each other, talking and laughing. So while drivers may seem like speed junkies whose only goal is to win, the reality is that they are just a group of people who love to rally.
More Pictures and a different perspective on the event can be found here.