Grafton’s Lee Palmer will navigate in upcoming World Cross Country Rally from Portugal to Morocco.
Grafton’s Lee Palmer will navigate in upcoming World Cross Country Rally from Portugal to Morocco. Adam Hourigan

Rally man on road again

HIS memories are consigned to a blur. A 200km/h flash.

More than 40,000km of clay, dirt, stone – and just about anything else a vehicle can stay upright on – has passed under his wheels.

This is the life of a rally driver. This is Lee Palmer’s reality.

The Graftonian sets off for another stint in the car on May 30.

This week: Portugal and Morocco, and the latest round of the World Cup for Cross Country Rallies 2010.

With eight Paris-to-Dakar rallies under his bonnet, and a host of blurry “good and bad” memories, Palmer is the first port of call for independent teams in need of an experienced navigator.

A former Volkswagen and BMW factory team member, Palmer will accompany Amadeus Matzker for the 5000km trip from the slippery clay mountains and sand in Portugal to Morocco’s wheat farms and the Sahara’s basalt stone.

It’s a two-week event the 35-year-old knows well.

“When somebody wants a co-driver I’m the man because of my experience,” says Palmer, who speaks fluent English, German and Catalan (a Spanish variation).

“That (the language) helps also.”

Palmer, originally from Inverell, began honing his craft on motorbikes.

This included “smoking them” on his 250cc Suzuki in his Australian Safari Rally debut.

“I realised that, I loved it,” he says. “Rally takes you to some crazy places.”

His first destination was the 1997 World Rally Championship on bike. His “strong stomach” saw a shift to the truck category – and fourth in the 2002 Dakar rally – before slipping gear again into the car four years ago.

Today his role is as a Grafton mechanic at Cross Roads in South Grafton, and freelance rally driver.

“I had the background in navigation from my motorcycling,” he says.

“The next thing I knew I was overseas racing.

“I was pretty natural as a navigator, but the biggest change from the bikes to the cars was being able to relay my message as fast as I can.”

Palmer and Matzker will spend four days in Portugal and five in Morocco when the race starts on June 15.

“People don’t understand that you’re off road and cross country getting beat up in the car,” he says.

“It’s great country to break your car into many pieces. You can write the car off in one mistake.”

With wife Claudia, herself a 10-time Dakar rally manager, and son Casey at home, Palmer knows his “addictive” career must one day come to a halt.

“There were a lot of scary moments,” Palmer says of his career.

“The first one (Dakar rally) I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s just the feeling of achievement. Not many people can achieve that in today’s society.

“But now I have got a young son and a family and the last few years I was travelling, so I needed to take a step backwards.”

Before he retires Palmer has one major ambition remaining.

“Win Dakar, but there’s more to that than saying that,” he says. “It’s not something that you can be good at, you have to prove yourself at it.”

Palmer, who jets off today, is hoping a lack of preparation does not hamper his ambitions in Portugal, despite “being fitter than most people”.

“I didn’t really train much at all for this event,” he says.

“Not being in a full factory car we would be really excited with a top-10 finish.”

A last-minute international driver’s license dilemma could not scupper Palmer’s plans overseas.

Palmer’s Racing history


11th overall Rallye Transiberico, car category as a navigator in a Landrover Discovery


Rider for test and development, BMW Motorrad Motorsport Enduro 450X Project


Professional co-driver, Team Volkswagen Motorsport


7th overall Rallye d’Orient Turkey, motorcycle category


3rd overall Rallye Por las Pampas Argentinia, motorcycle category


4th overall Rallye Dakar as a navigator in a KTM race truck


25th place Erzberg Hard Enduro in Eisenerz, Austria

1999 – 2000

Selected rounds of Swedish and European Enduro Championship as a factory rider for Husaberg with various podium finishes


1st outright Suzuki Central Enduro 4stroke outright


1st outright Queensland Cross Country Championships


1st Australian FIA World Cup Safari Class 250 cc


1st outright Inverell Club Championships – Enduro Cross A Grade


1st outright Four-stroke Motocross Championships, NSW


1st outright Inverell Club Championship Trials B Grade

1st outright Inverell Club Championshipts Flat Track C Grade

History of the event


The event was organised for the first time by the Clube Aventura of Portugal, and started in Lisbon and finished in Évora.


The event got 250 cars, including 100 from other countries, among them, the best drivers of the Dakar Rally.


The event started and finished in Tróia, a tourist resort, about 50km from Lisbon.


The centre of the rally moved, starting and finishing in Estoril, with the prologue near Lisbon. From this year onwards, FIA accepted the motorbikes in the event.


The event was named “Baja Nicola 1000” and counted for the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.


The event was held with a single special stage of around 650km.


The special stage was divided in two identical ones with 350 km each to allow the live TV broadcast.


This was the first attempt to move the event from a Baja to a Cross Country Rally.


The event was named “Baja Vodafone 1000” (Portugal), with two days of competition and 3 special stages. The event moved from Estoril to Évora, a World Heritage City.


was an official candidate for the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, under the name “Rally Transibérico”.


ACP became the official organiser


One extra leg was added to the event totalizing now about 1500km of stages.


The Rally Vodafone Transibérico is renamed Rally TT Vodafone Estoril – Portimão – Marrakech.

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