I’m certainly no relationships expert but I do know that a genuine interest in your partner’s occupation can be the difference between marital bliss and a night or two on the couch, and one of the best ways of tangibly investing is the so-called ‘take your partner to work day’.
In the name of domestic PR and world peace, I spent a day following my partner Molly through a day in her working life, and couldn’t recommend it more highly.
It didn’t take much twisting of my arm since Molly is the Subaru do Motorsport factory driver competing in the Australian Rally Championship, and a typical day for her is arguably even more car-immersive than mine.
But let’s first settle one misconception about motor racing as a career. It is not as glamorous as it might appear from the outside and, like virtually every other professional racing driver, Molly is just as flat-out when she is away from the track.
To name just a few, her day is packed with Sisyphean tasks including exploring new sponsorship possibilities, looking after existing sponsors, fulfilling ambassadorial duties for charities as well as Subaru, rigorous training to stay race-day fit, and fronting endless media interviews. Bloody journalists.
My day sharing her ‘office’ however, coincided with one of the best days in the job – pre-race testing. Ahead of the penultimate 2019 rally in the Adelaide Hills, I was offered a ride in the co-driver’s seat and the experience will stay with me forever.
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A deftly despatched handbrake turn onto the start line was the first indication that this short ride would be all about fun and flair rather than meaningful stage times. Molly flicked the engine management into ‘stage map’ pinned the throttle and the crackling of anti-lag was followed immediately by staggering off-the-mark acceleration.
Yes Molly’s PRC WRX STI has permanent four-wheel drive but the combination of MRF dirt tyres, bespoke differentials and Reiger suspension meant this incredibly specialised car explodes from a standing start on gravel faster than the standard road car would on asphalt.
At the hands of the Orange Motorsport Engineering team, the standard car underwent a dramatic transformation, shredding the weight to a little more than 1200kg and even though its engine is 500cc smaller than the factory STI and has a regulation restrictor fitted, it produces more power.
Beautiful attention to detail was taken to build the car, with lead engineer Jason ‘Whitey’ White substituting every non-controlled steel nut and bolt for titanium, manufacturing door trims from carbonfibre and expertly dissecting heft from key areas. He even replaced the steel shackle on the spare wheel strap for a bespoke titanium version.
The combined result of all this work shows spectacularly.
A full-power turn into the first bend somewhat predictably steps the tail out into a heroic drift that’s held with surgical precision. There’s a theatrical lean with the G-force, highlighting the suspension’s compliance and travel and it absorbs potholes that would shatter a standard road car’s wheels.
As the corner flattens out, Molly holds the tiller left, transferring the weight over to the opposite side seamlessly continuing the powerslide through a left turn and the tail wags wide right.
Just as astonishing as the acceleration is the car’s ability to scrub speed. There’s no ABS or power assistance, just four big pistons on each front wheel and brute force. A yank of the hydraulic handbrake snaps the tail into a tighter right and progress through the short course is almost entirely sideways.
Watching this car tear through stages all over Australia through the course of the year, it’s impossible to appreciate just how brutal the environment is when you’ve squeezed into the roll-cage, strapped on the six-point harness and lit the blue (and yellow) touch paper.
Between lightning direction changes, I take a minute to admire what co-driver Malcolm does from the same seat. While I’m struggling to keep my eyes open and say something witty, the bantamweight Kiwi manages to concentrate on the attitude and position of the car whilst faultlessly calling the pace notes.
Another faster section of the course allows Molly to pull another gear through the Melbourne-made Modena Engineering six-speed sequential transmission and carry what I assumed was a completely unfeasible amount of speed through one of the final turns.
Once again the car finds traction on surfaces that would trouble a modified Hilux and blast out of the final corner.
Amusingly, the team would later report the car had developed a differential problem and would hardly drive in a straight line. Molly’s response was simply “how was I supposed to know? I wasn’t trying to go straight”.
It’s not the first time I have gone fast in a car, and nor is the sensation of travelling sideways in a car completely alien to me, but just when you think you’re getting a bit handy at this steering thing as many car journalists do, you hitch a ride with someone who is truly talented and you realise you are in the equivalent of driving pre-school.
It’s only as we are rolling back into the service area, brakes stinking, titanium exhaust ticking as it cools and gear backlash clattering through the car that realise just how hard Molly’s job is. Quite how anyone maintains such a balletic composure over hundreds of kilometres of gnarly forest tracks is completely beyond me.
It’s a bit like finding out your mum is a secret agent or your most puritanical teacher at school was into swinging. Either way, I have never admired what all racing drivers do for a crust more, especially this one.
I used to think I had the best job in the world, but that was until Molly took me to work for a day. She had better appreciate it.