HALIFAX, N.S. —
Nathalie Richard has her brother to thank for an introduction to the sport of rally car racing.
The first time the Halifax native climbed into the co-driver’s seat, it was love at first drive.
Twenty years and numerous championships later, Richard learned that she would be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 2021.
“I was thrilled to hear the news,” said the 46-year-old. “I had a successful career, so it is really nice to be honoured in this way.”
Her brother Pat was a big fan of rally car racing and started a team in 2000. Nathalie watched one of his races and said she was ‘hooked right away.’
“It was his involvement that kind of randomly happened that got me introduced to the sport,” she said. “It is a phenomenal sport. There were so many aspects that I thought were really cool. It’s kudos to my brother, Pat, for me getting into it.”
Richard’s first step was to manage her brother’s team and when one of his co-drivers couldn’t make a race she seized on the opportunity to get in the rally car.
“One race his American co-driver couldn’t make an event, so I took a course to learn how to do this. A month later his Canadian co-driver couldn’t make an event so I slid in.”
Shortly after, Richard moved to Australia and raced down under for a few years. But a call from Pat and an offer to be his co-driver brought her home to Canada.
“I was there for four years and I said the only thing that would bring me back to Canada at the time was if I got a good rally gig. My brother was on Super Rally Team Canada and asked if I wanted to come back and co-driver for him. That was a huge opening for me so I jumped at the chance and I moved back to Canada.”
But Richard had to prove she belonged at that level and was up to the challenge.
“He was a notch above me already and he was really hard on me at the start of my career. I had to either get good or get out, that’s pretty much it. It was kind of baptism by fire. I was on a team where I was under-experienced, and I had to get really acquainted with it pretty fast and learn quickly.”
And so began an incredible rally career for Richard. She is a 10-time North American Rally Co-Driving champion, a nine-time Canadian Ladies’ champion and a five-time Canadian Rally Co-Driving champion. Over her career, she has won 47 national level races (29 in Canada and 18 in the U.S.) and reached the podium 90 times.
But her crowning achievement is capturing the sport’s Triple Crown – winning the Candian, U.S. and North American titles in one year – in 2004 (with Pat) and 2010 with Antoine L’Estage.
“That had never happened before 2004 when my brother and I did it together,” said Richard. “That was amazing, it’s only happened one other time and that was me an Antoine in 2010. It’s only happened twice and I’m the only one who’s won it twice.”
Co-driver more than a map reader
The co-driver’s job is much more than reading a map. The responsibilities include reading a set of pace notes about what lies ahead, turns, obstacles. And this is happening at speeds that can climb above 200 kilometres an hour.
“People think we are reading just a map,” said Richard. “It’s very detailed and what we have to do in the car. The co-driver is telling the driver what to do a split second before they have to do it. If I am a split second too late in telling the driver what is happening, then we could crash. If I’m too early he won’t be able to retain all the information. So it’s very much about timing and information. It’s a partnership in the car.
“We often joke that the driver controls the car but the co-driver controls the driver.”
Richard said she was involved in many crashes over her career, suffered a couple of concussions, but came away mostly unscathed.
Rally car racing isn’t a lucrative business but her love of the sport drove her to compete.
“It’s not a big prize bucket by any means, but I didn’t do it for the money.”
With her racing career in the rear-view mirror, Richard has returned to the world of finance as a certified financial planner at Insight Wealth Management Peak Investment Services.
Richard could be considered a pioneer in the sport of rally racing and she takes that role seriously by devoting time to help more women become involved in the sport.
“It’s nice to see more and more women in the sport. I am one of the founding members of the Women In Motorsport Canada. Our role is to promote women in every aspect of motorsport. Not just competing, but organizing, engineers, team managers, that kind of thing. Hopefully, it will have a positive effect that way.”
The Canadian Induction Gala was originally scheduled to be part of the Canadian International Auto Show in February 2021 in Toronto, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been changed to a virtual show. Details of the event will be announced at a later date.