Road Safety Lessons From The Rally Professor

By Dong Magsajo (The Philippine Star)


MANILA, Philippines – For around a 10-year period in the 1960s, Finnish rally driver Rauno Aaltonen made a name for himself in the world of professional driving. Aaltonen won the European Rally Championship in 1965 and the Finnish Rally Championship in 1961 and 1965 before winning the premier touring car race called the Gallaher 500 in a Mini Cooper S in 1966. He went on to compete and place prominently in several other race series including the World Rally Championship in the 1970s. Aaltonen made such a huge name for himself during his heyday that he was even given a nickname – The Rally Professor, an apt label considering what he does these days.

These days, Aaltonen focuses his efforts on teaching others how to maximize one’s driving skills – with safety in mind. These days, he runs a performance driving school that harks on the benefits of responsible driving. How does one shift from being a professional race car driver to being a safety driving instructor? The answer is – with much difficulty. Aaltonen, who was in town last week to help launch the MINI Cooper JCW edition (see accompanying story by Kap Aguila), argues that sports that are not team oriented like racing require its personalities to embrace a unique level of introspection.

“The socially positively oriented people involved in motorsport are at a disadvantage,” Aaltonen told The STAR in an exclusive interview. “Because in any individual sport, one must think of how he alone can improve. When driving out on the streets, on the other hand, one needs to consider every single outside factor – so it’s never about just a single individual. It took me 10 years to learn enough about how other people think before I got past my racing mentality. It’s been the biggest advantage for me… to learn about how other people think. That was the only time I learned how to develop a program that would be effective in teaching other people. It is what you learn about the person that is important, because there are limits to each person’s ability to learn.”

With this line of thinking, Aaltonen lays down the groundwork of how one can be an effective driver out on the streets. “Complete concentration is key for any good driver. A good driver should see the total picture – that includes what he can see and what he should know about the circumstances. In other words a good driver should be prepared for what might happen. He should not try to do something he is not capable of. He should stay within his limits. He should be calm, and not get too upset or too excited. Thinking poorly, a driver is much closer to an accident,” he reasons.

“A good driver must also understand how to use his machine. For example, it all starts with how to sit. More than 90% of the drivers in the world don’t even know how to sit right. A good driver should be able to push himself to his seat with his left foot. It’s from one’s shoulders that one gets stability,” he adds.

“The best and most basic lesson I can impart is to learn to keep your distance. Human reaction time combined with concentration differs in everyone. Analysis, decision making and acting differs. For normal people it can take about one second. Imagine what can happen in one second if you’re traveling at 100 kph. We need time and distance to keep ourselves safe,” Aaltonen stresses.

How exactly does Aaltonen teach these basics in his native Finland? He pushes his students to the limit via an ice driving course where grip is at its worst! “I believe in developing the mind more than the steering wheel. I push my students over their limit in training. I scare them into remembering that which is dangerous, at least while in safe conditions. I do this to stress how they should do things because they want to stay alive and never to show off,” he smiles.

How safe is “safe” for The Rally Professor? Let’s just say he’s had his share of celebrity students that include world leaders. And if you’re still not convinced, here’s another fact, in 1976, BMW developed a driver training program that focused on maximizing driver potential via interface with its automobiles and their capabilities. That program, now known as the BMW Driver Training Program, runs to this day. We’re giving you one guess who developed the program. For more on The Rally Professor and for even more tips on how one can drive safely and responsibly out on the streets, visit http://www.aaltonenmotorsport.com/.

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