So you’ve rock climbed, done the whole flying thing, been bruised up from rugby a few times, and now you’re up for another challenge. Whether you’ve already done some crazy adventure sport or not, rally racing just might be the kind of hobby you are looking for. In an interview with Mark Jennings-Bates, driver of the Prescribed Burn Rally Team, I had the chance to learn about the reality of rally racing, and the many thrills that come with speeding through gravel roads and asphalt paths.
A different kind of race
One of rally racing’s differences from Formula 1, NASCAR and IRL racing is the race track. In rally, there is no paved race track; rather, the roads are different all the time, ranging from gravel, to mud, to asphalt. The road conditions are very dependent on the weather—you may race in rain, snow or sleet. The race cars are mechanically conditioned to finish the race, built to handle off-road conditions and drift-tuned for sharp turns.
At each race, the roads are different and the driver and co-driver only get to see them once. They take a slow drive through the course first with the course notes (general course instructions that are provided). The first run through is called a recce rally, and as the drivers go through it once, they each write their own pace notes, which are later used in the actual competition.
Trust and a whole lot of faith
There is a complex relationship between the driver and the co-driver. The driver must place all of his trust and also his own life in the hands of the co-driver, who navigates throughout the race. The co-driver will tell the driver where to turn, the severity of the turn, what to look out for and what’s ahead in the next 100 meters. Sometimes there will be tire tracks on the road that are turned left but if the co-driver still says turn right, the driver must turn right. The driver must have faith in the co-driver, because he does not race by what he sees, but by what he knows and hears from his navigator.
For those who would love to rally race one day, here are a few suggestions from Mark on how to get started:
1. Be a spectator. Attend some rally races as a spectator and make sure you like what you see. You can volunteer at one of the events and chat with some of the drivers while getting a closer look at the action. In rally races, there are cars flying off the side of the road and they sometimes look out of control. Make sure this is something you can handle if you start rallying.
2. Buy a pre-prepared rally car. You need to spend the least amount of money on the car so you can use more money on races. It’s not about the car, but rather about the experience you gain in the races, so it’s better to buy a car that has already been prepared for rally racing. The most common rally race car is the Volkswagen Golf. Subaru Imprezas, Mitsubishi Eclipses or Eagle Talons are also good rally cars.
3. Look for sponsorship. A large part of this adventure sport is the business part. You have to put on a business hat and convince different companies to sponsor you. Take the time to understand why people would be interested in you and create events for sponsors to attend. Use media to create interest.
4. Get a competition license. There are racing schools you can attend that will grant you a license to compete. You must be medically fit to obtain this license.
5. Put a budget together. You will need to know what you’re getting into before you get into it. Most of your budget will go into paying for races and accommodations when you are out of town. Most (if not all) of the practice you get is in the races so it’s good to participate in as many as possible.
Life is full of distractions and sometimes it’s good to have something you can focus on without having to think about the rest of life. Mark believes it’s healthy to have some exhilaration in life. For him, rally racing is actually relaxing, functional, statistically safe and exciting. Just make sure you talk to the rest of your family before you take on this crazy sport.