Currently reading: Citroen's Paul Nagle on how to be a winning rally co-driver
No one likes taking orders, but the ones Paul Nagle gives Kris Meeke helped the pair to seize a famous victory on Rally Finland recently
Matt Burt
News
4 mins read
10 September 2016

Paul Nagle, the WRC co-driver to Citroën's Kris Meeke, spoke to Autocar about the challenge of rally co-driving.

It takes a special kind of driver to win Rally Finland, and it takes a special kind of navigator to sit alongside him, coolly delivering the pace notes that tell the driver exactly what level of speed and commitment to take into the next tree-lined corner.

Disaster could be one misread pace note away, yet the navigator’s contribution is often overlooked, which is precisely why Kris Meeke made a point of crediting his co-driver, Paul Nagle, after the pair won on the super-fast Finnish gravel roads in August.

Meeke and Nagle are late bloomers in the World Rally Championship, but having snagged that elusive first victory in their Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team Citroën DS 3 in Argentina last year, they have added two more wins this season. Finland was the most significant, because they led from the front on an event that few non-Nordic drivers have won.

Kris Meeke drove the new Citröen C3 WRC earlier this year - read more here

“Finland was definitely the biggest win of our career,” says Nagle. “To dominate in the way we did is very special. The event is all about pure speed.”

None is quicker than the daunting Ouninpohja special stage, 20 miles of flat-out blind jumps and flowing corners on a loose gravel surface. The average speed on the route is the brave side of 80mph and the organisers chose to run the stage in the opposite direction this year.

Meeke and Nagle completed the test in a whisker over 15 minutes and then went even quicker in the afternoon’s second run.

“There was a lot of work in places,” says Nagle. “Some sections are very fast and Kris’s pace notes are pretty detailed and complex. To believe in the pace notes and my timing was very important. I couldn’t get too far ahead of Kris [in the notes] because it is all blind crests. That was a big challenge.”

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Meeke and Nagle had to go into maximum attack mode because they had Volkswagen’s local star, Jari-Matti Latvala, breathing down their necks. A fastest stage time for the Citroën crew helped to break the Finn’s challenge.

“We knew Jari-Matti would come at us with everything and that stage defined who was going to win the rally,” says Nagle. “That night in bed, I watched the onboard back and it looked faster than I thought it was at the time. I thought to myself: ‘Did I really call all of those pace notes?’ And at some points, I was watching the video thinking: ‘Do we even get around this corner?’”

Meeke and Nagle are contesting only a handful of rallies during 2016 as Citroën focuses on developing its 2017 contender. They are leading the test work, jumping from the outgoing car to the new-for-2017 C3.

Read more about the 2017 Citroën C3 here

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The busy schedule means their partnership is more tightly fused than ever. “We probably know what annoys each other very quickly!” says Nagle, laughing. “If you are co-driver for Kris Meeke, you have to be prepared to work because he puts in a huge amount of work. It comes naturally now because we all want the same result.”

For Nagle, born into a rally-mad family in County Kerry, pursuing his dream has meant an enormous amount of personal sacrifice. Even when they were winning the Intercontinental Rally Challenge with Peugeot in 2009, he was manically jugging his special stage exploits with a full-time job at an electricity company in Ireland, negotiating time off and sabbaticals from his very understanding employer. The security of three-year contracts inked in late 2015 has liberated both him and Meeke to focus solely on the job in hand.

“He’s paid to drive the road in front of him and I’m paid to call the pace notes,” says the 37-year-old. “We don’t worry about anything else and we have a future, which was always the issue in the past.”

A new set of WRC technical regulations come into force next year, potentially resetting the order after four seasons of Volkswagen dominance. Citroën has high hopes of beating VW, but so do Hyundai, M-Sport/Ford and newcomer Toyota.

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“Our confidence is high at the moment but we’re all in old cars now,” says Nagle. “When we get to the first 2017 rally in Monte Carlo, everyone will be wondering who has done the best preparation. It will be a huge year for Citroën and our careers.”

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