Co-driver Zakova joins the 100 club, sets her sights on more ERC success with Cais
Jindřiška Žáková celebrated her 100th rally as a co-driver in Italy recently by targeting more success with Erik Cais in the FIA European Rally Championship and the new-for-2021 ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory.
The 28-year-old Czech began competing in 2012 and notched up start number 100 on Rally Il Ciocco e Valle del Serchio earlier this month, partnering Cais to P11 in their Rally2-specification Yacco ACCR Team Ford Fiesta R5 MkII, run by Orsák Rallysport.
Ahead of this weekend’s Kowax Valašská Rally ValMez, round one of the Czech Rally Championship, which she and Cais are contesting as part of their ongoing development together, Žáková explains what got her interested in the sport, the challenges of the job and how she overcame the loss of a co-driving friend. She also reveals her ambitions for the future and the advice she would give to other women considering starting out on the road to becoming an international co-driver.
When you started competing did you ever imagine you’d get to 100 starts?
“I have never thought that I will be able to manage such a high number of starts. Only during the last two years did I find that I am closer and closer to this number. It was really nice to start this season with the 100th start of my career.”
What does this number mean to you?
“I was always thinking that everybody who has more than 100 starts has really achieved something, really earned it. This number means a lot to me and I am happy that I was able to reach it. My starts were not always with a happy end, but it is part of the game.”
So, what got you interested in co-driving in the first place?
“It is amazing what miracles can be done with your brain. A co-driver needs to be able read one corner in advance, know in which corner he or she is, and sometimes write down changes to the notes for the corner, which were prepared on the recce. So, your mind must be on three places at once at speeds of around 170kph. Sometimes I don’t understand how it is possible. But because it is so difficult, that is why it is so amazing and why I became interested.”
When did you make your debut and what happened?
“My first start was on Rally Vrchovina in 2012 with Jiři Sojka. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish because of a crash on the first special stage, head-on into a tree. It was not the ideal start to my career, let’s say!”
What is your best career moment so far?
“The most beautiful moment for me was at Rallysprint Kopná in 2019, Erik’s first event in an R5 car. This race was amazing from beginning to the end. Together with Erik we were doing this rally mainly to enjoy, there was a great relaxed atmosphere in the team and the stages were beautiful. Despite we have finished second in the general classification, the atmosphere was like we had won. The heartfelt joyfulness of all people around us was perfect and it was the most beautiful feeling.”
And the worst?
“Rally Příbram in 2013. My very good friend and also my classmate on the co-driver’s seat, Jan Jinderle jun, sadly died during that rally. I have achieved such big progress in rallying also thanks to him and I hope he would be proud of me.”
As a co-driver, what do your typical duties consist of?
“Before the race it is necessary to make in advance all administrative issues, make planning of the recce and prepare the itinerary for the whole race. During the recce you need to make together with your driver the pacenotes and manage the administrative checking. After all of this, there is the race itself, which is the icing on the cake.”
In your view, what’s the hardest thing about being a co-driver?
“Everything must be working perfectly. The co-driver has absolutely no chance to take a rest during the race or during the liaison or in service, which is not the case for the drivers. The co-driver must be always concentrated, they must calculate and read everything and never be distracted from their job. The most difficult thing is not to make a mistake.”
What are your ambitions for this season and in the future?
“To finish as high as possible in ERC and return back from every race with good health. My driver, Erik, is very talented and I believe he can achieve a lot of good results. All the people around him are doing the maximum for it. I am looking forward to see where he will be in few years.”
Does being a woman make you more determined to succeed in rallying?
“For me yes. I am very competitive and I like breaking the challenges and I always need to be the best! And when I can be equal or maybe better than my male colleagues, I am more happy.”
Has being a woman ever been a barrier to competing?
“I don’t think so. Every woman competing in this sport is doing the maximum to be on same level, like the men. Some women can fall behind with technical parts, but on the other hand they are more precise in preparation and they can do two things at once!”
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career as a co-driver?
“If you really want, you will do it!”