Craig’s driving ambition

SELECT Member Craig Wallace on juggling life as an electrician and a rally co-driver





“Now, that was a biggie” was how electrician and rally co-driver Craig Wallace described a ‘parting from the road’ in the 2019 Border Counties Rally in a Honda Civic Type-R R3. The incident occurred while taking a corner at more than 100 miles an hour in the snow-laden gravel forest roads near Jedburgh, which resulted in Craig and his driver rolling their car six times, taking down a tree and landing upside down in the forest… and out of the rally. Fortunately, they walked away without a scratch with only their pride in tatters.


Craig laughed when he recalled the crash: “I’ve been involved in some spectacular rolls and crashes over the years, but luckily I’ve never once been injured. It’s all down to the safety gear we have when we rally, from fireproof overalls and roll cage built into the car to the helmets and frontal head restraints that we use, just like the ones Formula 1 drivers wear.”


He added: “That’s the excitement about rallying as a co-driver: guiding your driver around the course with your navigation instructions so he can find the edge to the limit of the car’s abilities and hopefully stay on the right side of it.”


Craig has been rallying longer than he’s been an electrician, as he started navigating with his father in historic car rallies when he was 14. He enjoyed the hands-on experience of being around cars and this practical aspect stayed with him after school when he decided to leave university after six months of a civil engineering degree to take on an electrical apprenticeship with a local company in Forfar.


He said: “I really enjoyed physics at school but when I went to university to study civil engineering I decided that being in a classroom wasn’t for me any more. When an opportunity came up to take on an electrical apprenticeship, I jumped at the chance.”


Craig stayed with the company for 17 years and just as his electrical career flourished, so did his reputation as a valued and trusted co-driver in the British rallying community.


As a co-driver, Craig’s role is to relate ‘pace notes’ to the driver over the rally course, advising of what lies ahead in the road, the severity of the turn and when to turn, as well as any hazards to look out for. Travelling at high speeds along narrow forest tracks or winding country roads takes great concentration and presence of mind to relay instructions that are changing almost every few seconds.


Although navigating can be a stressful role in a rally, Craig was finding more stress in his actual life, and felt he needed to get his work-life balance right in order. So when he was temporarily furloughed in 2020 it provided some time for him to think about his priorities. This led him to change up a gear and start his own business.


He said: “When I got furloughed, it gave me time to sit down and look at things and I realised that my work-life balance was not quite right. Seventeen years is a long time with one company so I decided I needed a fresh challenge and to start out on my own.


“I was fortunate that when I spoke to people about advice for starting my own company many of them said they had potential jobs for me or knew of others who would need electrical work. It sort of snowballed from there and, by word of mouth, my business grew; now I probably get 95% of my work from recommendations.”


Craig has been delighted by the way his company, Westmuir Electrical, has grown and the different projects he has been involved in around the Angus, Tayside and Perthshire region.


He said: “I like being my own boss and take pride in all my jobs, such as the recent redevelopment of an old restaurant in Perth, which is now part of the Giddy Goose chain.


“We had to strip out the old wire and install a three-phase fuse board for the kitchen and rewired all the lighting circuits and sockets in the main public area. We also advised on the lighting and one of the best things we did was illuminating a tree within the restaurant, using black flex along the branches and suspending LEDs from them to give the right ambience.”


Craig sees that his approach to electrical contracting shares similarities with his preparation for rallying, as he explained: “You have to be well organised, pay attention to detail, be able to problem solve on the spot, as well as being confident about your decisions, and sometimes you even have to be a bit bossy as some drivers can be a bit difficult!”


While the rally driver is focused on the road, Craig admits he rarely sees much of the route as his head is buried in his navigation notes, bouncing up and down in his seat as he shouts instructions above the noise of the revving engine and screeching tyres.


He said: “You spend most of your time with your head down reading instructions off your notebook telling the driver about what’s coming around the corner, how to take the corner and how fast he can go. Actually, a lot of it’s done by feel rather than sight as you get to feel where the car is on the road and what the car is doing. You don’t need to look up all the time, so you can concentrate on the next note and what’s coming.”


His navigating skills have been in demand with many drivers over the years – one driver said confidently that if Craig told him the road ahead went left, and he could see it went right, he would turn left.


Craig started rallying in his dad’s old Saab 96 in historic road rallies where enthusiasts raced cars for fun. As his experience grew, he graduated to the British Historic Rally Championship with a Skoda where, in his first year, he and his driver only finished one out of the five events.


He added: “I didn’t have a very successful year in the Skoda as we wrecked the car on a tree trunk but I believe you learn by your mistakes.


Our second year was better where we finished third in the championship.”


After a couple of years, Craig moved to the Scottish Rally Championship and the Peugeot 205 Championship, winning the Ecosse 205 Challenge as well as the Scottish Junior Championship in 2008. The next year he stepped up a class to a Vauxhall Corsa and won the John Easson Scholarship award, giving him a free entry to the Tunnock’s Tour of Mull rally.


Craig said: “This was a fantastic experience and, since then, every year after we took a step up into different classes, which ended up with us driving a Subaru Impreza to victory in the Galloway Hills rally in 2011, which was one of the highlights of my career.”


He then went on to compete in the British Rally Championship in an R1 Twingo, which won him the British Junior Championship and, as a reward, a trip to France to compete in Rally du Var. Since the heady days of championship titles, Craig has stepped back from the serious side of competitions and has been entering the Scottish Rally Championship for the enjoyment of the sport. However, he has found a new love for the Scottish Tarmac Championship where cars can reach up to 140mph on minor roads that are closed off for the seven or eight events held around the UK.


This year he can’t afford to take his foot off the pedal too much as he has a ride in a high-performance car: “This year has been pretty good as I’m sitting in the Beatsons Building Supplies-backed Fiesta Rally2, which is a phenomenal machine, as the technology, speed and grip on it is unreal. Obviously, being in the top-level car, you’re actually fighting at the front for overall victories and top championship points.”


Craig admits that he loves the adrenaline rush of the sport and it helps him let off steam, as he explained: “For me it’s just good to get away from work, switch off and go into something that you enjoy. Although it’s quite physically and mentally demanding, it helps me recharge the batteries. One thing I have found since going self-employed is that I’m nowhere near as stressed as I used to be, so I can enjoy things a lot more. Working for myself means I’ve got the flexibility to organise my work around my rallying weekends so I can plan work over four days and have the Friday morning to do some paperwork before I head off to an event. The only downside is not generating any income on the days I’m not working, but I can be flexible and work a couple of evenings or another weekend to make up.


“I keep telling myself I’m going to take a year off from rallying but I’ve said that for the last four years and it hasn’t happened yet!”



 

Craig helps his clients to stay safe



Just like his preparations for rallying, assessing risk is second nature to Craig and that’s why he will often spend a lot of time with his clients pointing out potential safety issues with their electrical installations and offer advice to mitigate any safety risks.


He said: “I believe it is important to clearly explain to customers why I need to update an item or to make things different and to point out the potential risks of not doing so, as they are a lot more willing to accept that they need to do it.


“I often say just because something works, it does not mean it is safe. I’m trying to get the word out there that electrical safety is a big issue because a lot of people don’t appreciate the risks. They are naturally worried about a gas or water leak but people don’t really think about electricity and what’s happening behind the walls.”


That’s why Craig was happy to be involved in SELECT’s Alarm Ambassadors campaign to help install new fire and heat alarm systems into people’s homes who could not normally afford to. His first commission came with a nice surprise, as he explained: “When the address came through for first job for an elderly lady who lives in sheltered accommodation in Dundee I was delighted to find out the flat was just a few doors along from the apartment that my granddad stayed in many years ago, so I knew the place quite well.


“We also got a nice piece about our involvement in the campaign in the Daily Record which was good as it helped to get our name out there, but I didn’t do it for the publicity as I generally like to help folk and particularly as the campaign was helping to make sure they were safer.”



 

Rallies are a hit on the road






In the UK there are two types of rallies: Special Stage and Road Rallies.


Special Stage rallying is probably the best-known branch of the sport, mainly taking place in forests and comprise loops of competitive sections, or stages, with the winner being the crew (driver and co-driver) that completes them all in the lowest aggregate time. The co-drivers read route direction notes issued by the organisers on both the stages and the linking road sections to ensure the car is heading the right way.


Road Rallies take place on the public highway where the emphasis is as much on navigation as driving skill. The navigator, who uses Ordnance Survey maps to direct the driver around the route, must be very careful with timing – it’s just as bad if you check in too early as it is to check in too late at a time control.


Other forms of road-rallying include Touring Assemblies with no timing, Economy Runs, Historic Rallies for classic cars and more competitive night events, where the emphasis is on good navigation and time-keeping.


Lots of well-known rally drivers cut their teeth in Britain’s road-rally scene and went on to stardom in the World Rally Championship, such as Colin McRae winning the championship in 1995 and Richard Burns in 2001.


The ‘12 Car’ event is ideal for starting out in any kind of rallying as just about any car can take part. You do not need special equipment to take part in road events, just the relevant map, a map magnifying glass and map light.


Source: www.motorsportuk.org/get-started/types-of-motor-sport/rallying


 

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