Leading mechanical engineer of the UNIMO project and multiple rally-raid participant Andrei Rudnitski: about himself, motorsport and design of his new racing helmet.
Andrei, tell us about yourself
My name is Andrei Rudnitski. I am a leading mechanical engineer of the UNIMO project. I have been in the automotive industry for 25 years. And I am also professionally involved in motorsport. I am a graduate of the Optics and Mechanics Faculty of the Belarusian State Polytechnic Academy, specialty "Optical and Optoelectronic Instrumentation". I have been working for about three years as an optician engineer, and this qualification was quite helpful for me. After my dismissal from the central design bureau "Spectr", a former manager of mine offered to collaborate on an innovative project for the time — to create laser headlamps for the automotive industry. It was long before famous car manufacturers started making matrix and laser headlights. Unfortunately, this technology was not developed enough at that time, and the company chose a different field of activity. Around that time I got interested in motorsport.
How did you start your career in motorsport?
Like any teenager from Zavodski District of Minsk at the time, I had a burning desire to find out something about karting, to see motocross competitions on a wonderful track on Kabushkina Street. During my student years I was interested in the achievements of the MAZ-TRT team, which was developing its own racing truck. I tried to reach out to the team, and nearly climbed the fence of their office to meet them. However, it did not work out then.
The acquaintance with the team took place in 1994 thanks to the mutual contact with Vadim Ovsyankin — at that time a person deeply involved in motorsport in Belarus. Vadim was engaged in karting, formula, circuit racing. In a year or two after I met Vadim's team I went to "Slavic Cup" as a mechanic. Then Vadim introduced me to Alexander Sinkevich. This is how I gradually got involved in motorsport and this process is still going on in 2020.
What was your first experience as a co-driver?
I got my first experience as a co-driver in "MAZ-Yarovit" trial team. Then several races were taken as a co-driver in the classic rally in the crew with Dmitry Tyumentsev. Gradually, the number of teams and races increased. Interestingly, I became the champion of Belarus in classic rally as a co-driver, but I failed to become the champion of the country in rally-raids because of the fairly poor state of this discipline in our country. Participation is costly for local teams, mainly when it comes to preparing a car.
People become co-drivers due to different reasons. For me it began with the MAZ-Yarovit project, participating in the trial competitions in 1999–2002 seasons. At that time, Alexander Sinkevich and I worked in a company that was organising karting races and was responsible for judging these competitions. Another activity was the organization of track-trial competitions, after Sinkevich was invited to "MAZ-Yarovit". Experience in judging, track design, with the European approach in organising races has helped us to get a good picture of how it should be done. Then, as an experiment, the team management put me in the cabin with Viktor Moskovskikh as a co-driver, right at one of the first stages of the event. Probably, it turned out not so bad, because I was in a crew with him during the first and second seasons.
After that, the growth of the team, the factory management and the track trial itself went beyond just a precise racing on the track and overcoming obstacles. We had a day dedicated to the trial, and another day to the circuit race. This is how the high speed program appeared. The next stage was moving towards the rally-raids and "Dakar", but the project was discontinued. However, the leaders of "Yarovit" company did not calm down. Andrey Biryukov, the owner of the company, decided to participate in rally-raids on its own. For this purpose, a new team "Yarovit-Rosagroleasing" was formed, which already had a russian residence permit. I was invited to be the sport manager of the SUV division. Here I got a closer view of rally-raids. And then a mere coincidence helped — at one of the races there was an open position for a co-diver, which I took. I participated in the crew together with Vladimir Tyupenkin on Niva in several races. So I have been participating in "Dakar" for 14 years already, аnd five times I competed directly in the race. As it is said — dream carefully!
As for the navigating experience itself, when you look at the road book for the first time, you feel yourself like a deer in the headlights. But everything in it is quite logical and well-defined. The book has symbols for all kinds of roads, crossroads, directions, jumps and pits. The distances from one mark to the other are also indicated. Using this information you need to translate the readings to the road, which you see in the windscreen to tell just in time to the pilot that there is a big jump or a deep hole ahead of him. However, it is not always possible to look on the road. In this case you sense the route with your body. There are, of course, challenging situations. For example, at last season's "Dakar" the distance between some markers could be between 10-15 km. Then I ironically asked the pilot to wake me up in 10 minutes, because it was getting boring just to sit and look out of the window. But in cases when the marks are at distances of up to 100 meters, you only have time to indicate the direction of movements by hands, because there is not enough time even to say something on the radio. All in all, the racing rhythm can be very jerky and sometimes you have to do much gesticulating and talking during a racing day. Of course, for this you have to be exceptionally talented person, like me :)
What is the difference between a co-driver and a pilot?
Probably a co-driver is a crazy person who agrees to sit next to a pilot. It requires not only the ability to show or advise the route, but also simply to be in the race without driving a car — it is quite a masochistic experience. But it is also interesting in its own way, because in a classic rally and in rally-raids a co-driver is at least half of the success.
Co-driver is a crazy person who agrees to sit next to a pilot
Have you ever lost a route?
Obviously, it happens quite often. In such cases, it is important to understand that we are going the wrong way, and then to find where to go — to the previous point or to find where to the cut the route, to choose the direction in which the car can go. That is, you can get lost and go in the absolutely wrong direction. It may be that the tracks on the road and the general direction indicate that the crew is still on the track, but it is absolutely unclear in what point of the road book. The road book itself is sometimes about 100 – 200 pages. And although it is possible to get lost just on one or two pages, the crucial information can be missing, let’s say, about the pit, which is marked in the book as very dangerous with slowing down near to a stop. To come to such a pit at full speed can be quite painful — I know what I’m talking about!
Have there been breakdowns?
Absolutely! The machines are sophisticated, the conditions are extreme, so breakdowns are inevitable. One breakdown on KAMAZ was especially memorable. We had to do the engine overhaul with piston replacement right in the desert. And all this in outdoor conditions — when it's cold at night and very hot during the day. Teammates dragged us out of the special stage to the location where you could provide emergency assistance. We waited till the technician of "KAMAZ Master" team arrived. We were instructed by a motorist and another mechanic. It took us approximately 36 hours to repair the breakage. And up to the moment when we were able to catch up with the other competitors — three days. Catching up had to be fast, we covered roughly 800 km every day. Such cases are always taken into account by the judges and are penalized. However, it is always a task to eliminate the breakdowns by your own efforts. Then, unfortunately, we left the race, but we gained valuable experience.
How many teams did you manage to participate in?
During my racing career I managed to be a part of quite a large number of teams. In rally-raids these are "MAZ-Yarovit", "Yarovit-Rosagroleasing", then it is simply "Rosagroleasing". Then there were "X-Raid Team", "ProtehMsport", "Ё-Mobile", the Lithuanian team "General Financing Team Pitlane" (2 years), the season in the team "Belgorod-Motorsport" (season in the World Cup), we finish the full season with the team "Snag Racing Team" from Ekaterinburg. There is hope that in the near future a "UNIMO-Motorsoprt" team will be created in the "Universal Mobility" company and I will also perform in it.
What were the cars you used to compete with that you remembered the most?
In rally-raids there was an experience competing on Niva, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Oscar, Mini, and also buggy Can-Am Maverick X3. Perhaps the Can-Am buggy was the most comfortable vehicle in terms of performance, although not the fastest due to technical regulations. In "Dakar 2016" I took part in the Polish-German team on Mini All4 Racing. It was a factory prepared car — the most technically and technologically advanced in my service records. There is also a chance to participate in a Toyota Hilux pickup truck made by factory team from South Africa. The car is a little old (made for "Dakar-2014"), but still quite fast. It was interesting to ride on everything. Including my first experience as a co-driver at Dakar on a KamAZ truck, so there is also some experience in this discipline.
Speaking of your new helmet. Why was this design chosen?
The strength of each contestant personality is amplified by the team spirit. Symbols also play an important role in this regard. First of all, helmet design is a manifestation of an individuality. We discussed the whole concept together with our designer Pavel Amelishko. We decided to use national symbols, elements of folk ornaments with the meanings embedded in them through generations. Pavel was deeply immersed in the topic, analysed a huge amount of information. He attempted to include a large number of details and nuances. All this he implemented initially in the design model, and then with his hands on the helmet.
The helmet itself is a standard one, meets the requirements of the International Automobile Federation on homologation and is approved for competitions. In terms of design — it is a closed type helmet with carbon lamination. It is impossible to make any changes to the structural design. The list of materials with which it is decorated and painted is also clearly defined in the safety requirements. The coating materials should not be aggressive to the surface of the helmet, and they should not be flammable or chippable.
The whole process of creating a unique design was carried out by the UNIMO company
The whole process of creating a unique design was carried out by the UNIMO company and the designer Pavel Amelishko. The first stage of the whole process was the creation of the layout, and for this it was necessary to choose a particular design concept. I'm sure that Pavel had a lot of ideas in his mind, but we rather quickly stopped at one. As any creative person, our designer aimed at perfectionism, verifying the ratios and placement of design elements for a while. As a result, his final vision of the main graphic elements completely satisfied me and I've accepted the final version.
The process itself consisted of preparation, cleaning and matting the surface of the helmet. After that the mask, template, and paint were applied in a certain order. All this was done by UNIMO company.
Tell us more about symbolism?
The design of the helmet resembles a difficult times in our country. Yes, there is a concept that sport is apolitical, along with external advices regarding combinations of colors that are not quite appropriate at the competition. But we have seriously studied the subject. The main symbol is the shield, which is on the left hand of the the Pahonia coat of arms. It is almost identical, as it is drawn on the officially registered symbol. There are also elements of Belarusian ornament, which we also discussed and studied thoroughly with the designer. These elements carry the energy and spirit of previous generations that will be with me during the competition events. If we talk about the specific meaning of the ornament, we used the elements of protection and help of generations.
Symbols on the helmet carry the strength and spirit of generations to help during races
Where was the helmet first used?
The premier event was the Russian rally-raid Cup stage in Tula on October 30–31. Since it is a closed type helmet, it is used in open cars, buggy for instance. Unfortunately, this year's competition largely depends on the situation with the coronavirus. That's why there are fewer and fewer opportunities to perform in the new helmet. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many stages of different cups have been postponed or cancelled. However, one of the important events of the racing season — "Dakar-2021" — will still be held in January. Preparations for the race are being carried out actively. To date, the scout team is already conducting the second reconnaissance route in Saudi Arabia. So everything indicates that the next "Dakar" will start in Jeddah on January 3, 2021. And there will definitely be something to look at!