by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Jason Swoboda

Ryan Dunham has found himself in the co-driver’s seat for a number of different drivers over the past few years, including stints with both Jimmy Pelizzari and Justin Mason in the 2018 Rally America National Championship season. From his first in-person rally experience in Wales just a few years ago, to his first 2-Wheel Drive victory, learn more about his path through the sport so far:

What made you want to start rallying?

I’ve been a fan of rally since childhood, when I stayed up to listen to Becs Williams on World Rally Radio during WRC events. But I became seriously involved after I traveled to Wales Rally GB while working overseas in 2013. It began with a late night drive on the "wrong" side of the road (to me!) around Wales, staying in a hostel in Llandundno right across the street from the ceremonial finish. The whole event was the most amazing experience, including getting sprayed with gravel and thick Welsh mud. I spectated the final stage on the Great Orme's Head and spoke with fellow spectators, all of whom around me were grassroots rally competitors in the UK. They encouraged me to stay through the end of all of the national competitors, and I was hooked!

The MkII Ford Escorts, Renault Twingos, flying at the absolute limit through the cliff-side stage, solidified my desire to find a way into a car. Nevertheless, my passion has always been for co-driving. I volunteered for a number events before making my way into a car. Fun-fact: Wales Rally GB remains the only rally I've ever spectated on purpose.

When was your first event and how did you do?

My first event was Prescott Rally in 2015, with driver Andy Cowan. I had been preparing mentally for a while, but after getting in touch with Andy, I only had about a month to acquire safety gear and get a medical exam for my license! Andy was also a relatively new competitor at the time, but we seemed to click. We posted consistent times throughout the event. Near the end of the last stage, after passing a stopped competitor in our class with motor trouble, we moved into fourth place in 2WD. But our car had other ideas! On one of the next big straights, I heard a sudden POP followed by grinding from the rear of the car dragging on the ground; we had lost the entire left rear wheel, brakes and all. A bummer of a finish but a great experience that kept me coming back!

When was your first really memorable result—win or podium—and how did you get there?

My first memorable win was with Andy Cowan, at Gorman Ridge Rally in 2017. It was a tight battle with a number of other competitors throughout the event, trading stage times and keeping up with experienced crews who remarked on our speed in between the stages. After powering through the last stage in the dark, we kept our lead to finish first in 2WD and sixth overall. Throughout the event Andy was driving well, and I had a good feeling on the notes. Everything fell into place to bring home that first win.

Do you prefer to work with a single driver or multiple drivers?

I would prefer to work with a single driver, as the trust and communication required both on and off stage is something built over time. I usually start to feel this after a few events together. However, I seem to find myself as a co-driver mercenary lately, having worked with seven drivers on eight events last year. This year, my season was unfortunately cut short, but I substituted for regular co-drivers in two different rallies, and we brought home podium finishes in both cases! Working with many drivers has made me adaptable to different note styles and personalities, which I hope will help in the future.

What’s your favorite event on the Rally America schedule?

My favorite event on the Rally America schedule is probably Southern Ohio Forest Rally. After hearing many good things about the inaugural event last year, I was fortunate enough to work with 515 Motorsports and driver Justin Mason in his Volvo 240. The twisty, rollercoaster-esque roads made for quite the ride in a RWD car! With so many notes and the changing rhythm of the car, it's like no other event in the US. We came away with third place on the national podium - an amazing finish up against Burke and Hooper in a car with about only 100HP! I can't wait to go back.

Do you have any pre-event routines?

Ha! Many! I find the event information first, fill out my movement plan (which has a specific format), communicate with drivers, review videos... I’m always worried about forgetting one of the many things, so I set my equipment in one particular corner of my house, and every time I find something that needs to travel with me, it gets added to the pile in the days leading up to the event.

Which other co-drivers in the sport do you respect the most?

I respect everyone who's crazy enough to step into the passenger seat alongside these drivers and go barreling down the stage. If I picked a few, however, I would like to thank Alicia Saarinen, for answering all my multitude of questions before my first event, and donating one of her driver’s (her husband Markus) fire suits so I could have gear in time; Alex and Rhianon Gelsomino, for all of the knowledge and advice they pass on to not just me, but the whole of the rally community; and especially Karen Jankowski, who has been a great help and mentor in my short time in this sport.