Meet the Co-Drivers: Alison LaRoza
Racing is often a family affair, no matter what type of racing you’re competing in. Such has been the case for Alison LaRoza, who has served as the navigator for her father Steve in multiple Rally America National Championship chases and desert racing title wins, and stepped into the silly seat alongside Michael Hooper at this year’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally. Today, we get to know her a little better:
What made you want to start rallying?
I grew up watching my dad race dirtbikes, and began racing them myself when I was 10. Once I was 15, I was able to enter an adult Best in the Desert race, the Parker 250. When I finished that race and asked to do another, my dad suggested we build a buggy so we can race together. In 2004, my dad and I started racing vehicles in various desert series, grabbing three national titles as the only father-daughter team. We were so lucky to have a great sponsorship with Ford, who really opened up multiple doors for us along the way. Cliff Irey, from Ford, supported the two of us to participate in the five-day class at Team O’Neil Rally School, and from there the rest is history!
When was your first event and how did you do?
My first rally was STPR in 2014. I had no idea what I was doing! The amazing thing about the rally community is how willing everyone is to help newbies. That first event I received advice from Tim O’Neil, Martin Headland, Martin Brady… big names but I had no idea at the time. We placed fourth in regional on both days for this event, and I had definitely caught the rally bug!
When was your first really memorable result—win or podium—and how did you get there?
Olympus 2015 was the second rally I competed in, and my first podium. The whole event we were neck and neck with another team, which was the first time I feel like I actually felt the adrenaline of racing. My dad had always been very competitive, but I don’t think I understood what it meant to be competitive until that race. After two days of racing we were mere seconds behind third going into the final stage, which was just over 20 miles long. I don’t even remember that stage I felt like I was in such a state of flow, but all of a sudden it was over and I was immediately calculating times between the two cars. I remember Steve Gingras coming up to us after the times were triple-checked and we got 3rd place by less than 10 seconds! It was a feeling that is hard to describe! Plus, Olympus is our home rally, so my dad and I were able to celebrate with our family there, which was great!
Do you prefer to work with a single driver or multiple drivers?
I feel like I was spoiled because I grew up racing with my dad. He retired from cars this year after 14 years of us in a car together. We raced the whole Rally America circuit, so I never had a need to find another driver. This season I had the pleasure of racing with Michael Hooper. As my first time with a new driver, I was beyond nervous to get in a new silly seat. Hooper was so great about it, and we ended up having an amazing event, placing the highest I ever had. We got first overall and third overall regionally, and third in class, fifth overall nationally. Since then I have been talking with multiple other drivers and am very excited about the 2019 season!
What’s your favorite event on the Rally America schedule?
Hands down Ohio, with LSPR as a close second. Ohio is such a challenging event for the codriver, which I thrive on! The stages are extremely tight and twisty, and the transits are so close there is zero room for error. LSPR is another one of my favorites, simply because as the last race on the circuit it feels like every team is out there to give it their all. I love the buzz of the energy between competitors at LSPR, there is no other race like it!
Do you have any pre-event routines?
I spend weeks before a rally reviewing the supplemental regulations, finding old in-car footage of the previous year’s event, reviewing maps, researching past stage times of my driver and comparable drivers to track during the event, making connections with local businesses in the area in case we need anything during the event, and more. Once I arrive at the event, I am solely focused on being as prepared as possible for the stages. Whether or not my driver write’s their own notes, I always hand write the Jembas to ensure I am able to read the notes smoothly and as quickly as possible. Delivery of notes is key and can take seconds off each stage, which at the end can be the difference of a stage or event win.
Which other co-drivers in the sport do you respect the most?
Alex and Rhianon Gelsomino of OZ Rally Pro are huge mentors of mine, as well as Martin Brady. All three are so knowledgeable and humble, and never hesitate to offer any advice or answer any questions. When I raced Ohio with Michael Hooper, we were really giving Martin and Seamus a run for their money the first day, which was so exciting and terrifying at the same time! I have always put Seamus and Martin on a pedestal of where I hope to be in 20 years. Nevertheless, even though I was his biggest competition that day, Martin still did not hesitate to talk with me about how my stages were going, give me advice, and even talk through a mistake I made, reassuring me that he has made the same mistake before. He truly is an ambassador for what it means to be a co-driver!