Never inclined to take the wheel of a rally sports car, Alex Gelsomino has thoroughly enjoyed his view from the passenger seat as a professional co-driver.
Rally co-driver Alex Gelsomino says he’s lucky to have had a nearly three-decade career in a sport that has allowed him to travel the world and given him the gift of meeting his wife.
The 48-year-old started his professional journey at age 18 when he took a co-driver course in his hometown of Palermo, Sicily. He did his first rally race a couple of weeks later and spent the next three years learning the ropes. Then, at age 21, he moved to Florida.
After taking a few years to learn English and adjust to his new life, Gelsomino broke into the amateur American rally scene. In 2005, after about a decade, he became the co-driver for professional rally driver Ken Block, and the two have been a team ever since.
“We are entering our 17th year working together, which in motorsport terms is 100 years,” Gelsomino says.
Their partnership works both on a personal and professional level, Gelsomino says. “You spend (countless) hours together. The characters need to link very well.”
With Gelsomino as co-driver, Block drove for Subaru from 2006-09, then signed with Ford for 10 years, before competing for Subaru again last year.
At press time, Gelsomino and Block were planning to compete in February’s East Africa Safari Classic Rally in Kenya, where they expected to drive a Porsche 911 for British outfit Tuthill. The specifics of the U.S. 2022 season were still up in the air.
As for his bucket list, Gelsomino says he hopes to get a chance to do a rally in Japan and perhaps a few more in the Middle East.
Rally cars are street-legal vehicles that race long courses on both public and private roads. The sport requires massive logistics and preparation, Gelsomino explains. It starts with studying the course in detail from home, then arriving on location, renting a car and doing reconnaissance for a few days before the race.
As co-driver, Gelsomino is in charge of navigating. He does this by creating exhaustive “pacenotes” that include detailed descriptions of the road, including things like turns, junctions, speed and more. The co-driver calls out the pacenotes, allowing the driver to make decisions preemptively.
So was Gelsomino ever tempted to become a driver? “Not really,” he says. “My entire career has been a constant progression on the right side of the car, on the co-driver side.”
He did venture into driving a race once, about 15 years ago, with the goal of fine-tuning his skills as a co-driver, he notes.
Gelsomino and Block have won many international events — in New Zealand, Barbados, Canada, Italy and more — and their best World Rally Championship result was 7th overall.
Last year, Gelsomino, who became a U.S. citizen in 2001, placed second as co-driver in the 2021 American Rally Association National Rally Championship. First place went to his wife, Rhianon Gelsomino, a native of Australia who is also a professional co-driver.
The Gelsominos met on the rally circuit just under 10 years ago and later founded a co-driver rally development program called OZRallyPro.
At first, it was “a little strange” to be married and competing against one another, but they have since figured out a balance, Gelsomino says. At home in a small town in Idaho, they don’t talk much about their jobs. On the road, they stay in separate hotel rooms to focus on their respective teams.
“When you put your helmet on and you start your race, all you want to do is win,” he says.
Gelsomino says he’d like to co-drive for another five years and then take a year off to figure out his next stage.
“Usually, when you have accumulated this high-level experience, the next obvious step would be team management. Maybe or maybe not. Maybe I’ll do something else, or maybe I’ll retire,” he says. “This career has been unique and rewarding for me. I’ve been lucky.”
The above appears in the April 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.