AN INTRODUCTION TO PERFORMANCE RALLYING
By Jeff Lantz
OVERVIEW OF THE SPORT
For a general overview of rallying in Canada, letís start at the national level. Currently, there are six events in the Canadian Rally Championship and they span both the country and the seasons.
From west coast to east coast, they are the Pacific Forest Rally in Merrit B.C., the Rocky Mountain Rally in Calgary, Alberta, the Tall Pines Rally in Bancroft, Ontario, the Rallye Perce Neige in Maniwaki, QC, the Rallye Defi-St Agathe of St Agathe, QC and the Baie de Chaleur on Quebecís Gaspe penninsula.
The competitive season lasts most of the year. It begins with the wintry Rally Perce Neige in Quebec, moves west to the prairies for the Rocky Mountain Rally in late spring and returns to Quebec with two summer events, Rally Defi and Rally Baie de Chaleur. Fall brings the rally scene to British Columbia for the Pacific Forest and, finally, the year ends in Ontario with the Tall Pines Rally and the start of winter again.
Each event has a website that will provide dates and relevant information. The Canadian Rally Sport (CARS) site has links to all events, regularly updated results and clubs. CARS is the governing body for the entire country. It establishes rules, safety standards, provides insurance and is affiliated with the Federation International Automobile.
As well, Canada is divided into five regions, each with an established governing body and a championship. They are grouped around the west coast, the western provinces, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
Several differences exist between national and regional levels of competition. National events are longer, typically having about 150 km of special stages, while regionals are shorter. In Ontario, they vary from 50km of stages (GCFR) to 100 km (Black Bear and Tall Pines).
National entry fees are higher than the regional events. While a national event entry fee will often be $600 to $800, a regional rally will likely cost $375 to $500.
More cars enter nationals, perhaps 25 to as many as 35, while 15 to 20 cars will likely appear at a regional.
License requirements are the same for both with the exception of the actual cost of the license. In years past, this has been about $165 for a regional license and $200 for the national license. Beyond those differences, there is often more intense competition at the nationals because the better funded and more experienced teams attend and are extremely committed to winning. Currently there is also television coverage available on the nationals but not most regionals, Quebec excepted. Quebec actually has a very well developed regional series with television and other media coverage. They concentrate on two wheel drive cars. See the RSQ link on the CARS website for more details.
The distances travelled to events is a significant part of the sport. For example, from most urban centres in Ontario, you will be travelling three to four hours to an OPRC event. Those of us in the south of Ontario will be travelling north because venues are located in cottage country or further north. Travelling to national events, however, can entail criss crossing the country several times in a year.
There are also a number of US based events in Michigan, Ohio and the American northeast that attract Canadian competitors. See the Rally America and NASA websites for info on events like the Lake Superior, Sno* Drift, Susquehanna Trail Pro Rally, Maine Forest and similar rallies.
A good place for Ontario competitors to start is the regional Ontario series. The general competition rules require new rally drivers to do two regional level events before tackling a longer national rally.
For the Ontario Performance Rally Championship, there are three regional events that take place within Ontario and three that take place in Quebec.
The Ontario based events are the Black Bear near Dorset in June, the Galway-Cavendish Forest Rally close to Catchacoma in August and the Tall Pines in November. The Pines regional portion is embedded within the national rally and is usually about 2/3rds of its length. There are three Quebec events included in the OPRC which are also regionals within a national rally.
One recent development in the OPRC is the inclusion of a Classic Division that scores cars twenty years or older for special awards in the three Ontario events. And the Galway-Cavendish Rally places special emphasis on this scoring group. All regular CARS rules apply.
If you are trying to set a budget and stay within it, stop now. Money will flow freely and only stops flowing when the rallying stops. That said, there are things that can be done to reduce costs.
Decide whether to build a car or buy an existing rally car. Usually, a built car is less expensive. Don't look for a rally car that has low kilometres and has never been abused. Look for one that has stood up to the abuse.
Look closely at the logbook. Scrutineers and Stewards, who are the officials at a rally, will make note of any serious damage inflicted on a rally car in an event.
Make sure that the cage meets the required specifications. Download the rulebook from the CARS website and study it thoroughly. A hard copy of the rules is $15 or comes with your license.
That last point can't be stressed enough. Know the rule book not only for how to compete but also for how to build, maintain or modify the car. It can be expensive to put a car together that doesn't meet the rules.
One good way to get into the sport is to attend a few regional or national events as a spectator and talk to the competitors. See what kinds of cars they have put together.
Ask lots of questions. Most competitors will be only too happy to answer them. Walk through the service area before or after an event for the best times to talk but, if there is not a lot of hurried activity for a particular crew, fire away during the event. Theyíll tell you if they are rushing to finish service and beat the clock.
Be warned though. Get too close and you may find yourself with a wrench in your hand working furiously on a rally car! Thatís often a good thing, however. Being a part of a team's service crew is an excellent way to take in the event and and to see what is involved in keeping a car in a rally.
A lot can be learned about driving technique from standing on the spectator corners and watching. The fast teams will be at the front and look spectacular. But that can be very hard on the car and it can cost a lot of money to maintain this high standard.
There is a level of preparation that competitors build to in order to reach the start line. And then there is the level that they build to in order to reach the finish line. Build the car and drive it to reach the finish line.
Do that and you can be virtually guaranteed a finishing position higher than your starting position. At every event, other teams will fail to finish. That is a costly way to rally and it provides less seat time.
And remember, when choosing a class in which to compete, that four wheel drive, turbo chargers and carbon fibre can be expensive as well as exciting. Donít overlook the advantages of the two wheel drive or production classes. Driving a car with a smaller displacement motor to the limit of its abilities is still dramatic.
You will need a flame retardant driving suit, preferably a double layer one piece suit. The cost is probably $450 and up. Add another layer if desired by buying Nomex underwear. Make that two sets if you can afford them.
Nomex is comfortable in the cold winter months, but sticky in the hot summer months. If you have to climb into a driving suit for a second day of competition, substituting a second, clean set of Nomex underwear for a perspiration soaked set can make the many hours spent in the suit more pleasant. But even a single set of underwear will prolong the life of the driving suit.
Also required is a Snell rated helmet. An "M" rating is for motorcycles and is not acceptable. They are meant to withstand damage inflicted by sharp objects. The "SA" rating, for Special Applications, has better flame resistance and is designed for hitting more blunt objects. See the CARS rules for the latest specification that you will need. Prices are often $300 and up.
You have a choice of either open or closed face style for the helmets. While closed face helmets provide greater protection, they can make the long hours spent in a rally car uncomfortable. They will also muffle the co-driverís voice when giving instructions. And should the co-driver feel nauseous, the results within a closed helmet can be unpleasant indeed.
Consider that some helmets have provision built into them for the earphones and microphones that are needed for radio communication between the driver and co-driver. This will increase their cost considerably. This necessitates the addition of an intercom. Add that to the cost of your build. Or, if you prefer, build your exhaust to be quiet as well as low restriction so that the co-driver is not hoarse by the end of the rally from shouting instructions.
Remember that you will have to have a competition license. This requires a medical exam, typically $100 for a third party medical. Download the required form that your doctor has to fill out from the website. A first aid certificate (emergency not standard - St John Ambulance, Red Cross or similar- typically $75 or thereabouts), a club membership ($45 - $75) and the actual license (application form also on website - see regs for current cost, it has been about $165 in the past per year) will complete the necessary paperwork.
If you are a driver, remember that you are only half of the crew. The other half is a co-driver who is similarly outfitted with safety gear.
The car will have to have up- to-date 5 or 6 point seat belts. These can be a significant expense. Currently, the rules call for turnbuckle or push button release and not lever release. Expect to spend several hundred each. They will have an expiry date. Some can be re-webbed at a tremendous savings over the cost of new. Consider this when choosing a manufacturer/supplier, as it will be a factor to consider every 5 years. This is required every two years in American events.
Another piece of equipment that has become a near necessity is a rally computer. Halda is one brand that is common but there are numerous other, competent, manufacturers. Expect to pay several hundred dollars. Used equipment is hard to find and usually is snapped up quickly if it comes on to the used market.
Set out a schedule for collecting these items. The helmet specs are updated every few years, therefore make that purchase close to the time that you are actually about to start rallying. Because the paper work is even more time sensitive, leave it until you are closer to the start of your rally career. (But not last minute!) The driving suit is the least time sensitive. If you buy the suit perhaps the season before you start, you have one less major expense at a time when there will lots of last minute costs.
While you are in the preparation stages, look for a partner who will sit with you in the car. Whether you want to drive or navigate, you need to connect with someone whose company you enjoy. You will spend a lot of time together and much of it under pressured circumstances. Make sure that you can get along with him or her. You will find that experience can become your most valuable resource. And, likely, it will be the most expensive one. Look for a partner who will help you turn mistakes into assets.
Build your team skills by attending navigational rallies if possible. Decide if or how you want to split the costs of the sport. Keep it a friendly but business like arrangement.
As an aside, co-driving can be less expensive than driving. More folks want to drive than co-drive and a good co-driver is a valuable commodity. Often, it is the driver who builds and funds the majority of the costs, although thatís not always the case. There are almost as many different arrangements as there are partnerships.
Whether you are planning to build or buy a car, put the cage first in priority, other safety equipment next and then the reliability of the car after that. That generally means suspension. Buy the best matched shocks and springs that you can. Reinforce their mounting points. Feed the loads from the suspension into the cage by connecting the suspension mounts to the main legs of the cage. Attach the cage to the bodyshell at as many points as possible.
Known as multi pointing, this will feed the energy of the jumps/bumps into the cage. A properly engineered roll cage is better able to handle them than the thin sheet metal of the bodywork. This will make the whole shell last much longer and will also better absorb the energy of an off road excursion.
Skid plate the bottom of the car. Use 1/2" aluminum, or close to that, under as much of the engine and transmission as possible. Protect the fluid lines and the brake calipers. Flying stones will travel everywhere and often do damage. You will find stones, debris and mud in places that are nearly incomprehensible.
Fabricate and route your exhaust in such a way that it can be quickly removed and repaired. It may become repeatedly damaged or torn apart during events. In fact, the entire underside of the car will be pounded unbelievably hard. Protect it well.
Decide whether the odometer sensor will be attached to the transmission or fitted at a non-driven wheel. Sometimes, it is fitted to both. A backup sensor can be invaluable if one is destroyed part way through an event.
Find some gravel rally tires, either new or used. (More 15 " tires are available second hand than other sizes) Steel wheels will take the punishment of rallying better than aluminum and are less expensive.
Brakes are very important as they have to repeatedly dissipate a lot of energy. Look for pads/shoes that will take the extra heat. Steel braided flex lines are better able to handle heat, pressure and the inevitable pummelling by stones. Many experienced teams route the steel brake lines and the steel fuel lines through the cockpit in order to protect them.
If you attend events that have night stages, you will need lights more powerful than normal headlights. Start with sealed beam halogen headlights or brighter bulbs for your Original Equipment
lights. Next, look for either aircraft landing lights, which are often available at airports, or for large diameter auxiliary lights. These can be expensive. Make a mount which can be quickly added at service before the night stages in order to minimize the risk of damage.
And, if you are passed by a car on a stage while running your lights without protective covers, slow down briefly. Let the other car put some distance on you as quickly as possible. Whatís the reason? Rocks spit out from the passing car can easily destroy hundreds of dollars worth of lights in a split second. This would be no fun at all at the best of times but it is even worse on a dark night at speed.
Make the engine reliable and leave the trick horsepower modifications until you can actually make use of the increased power. It is better to put the money into the rest of the car first. Simply make sure that the engine and transmission are healthy and will last the distance of a rally if driven hard. And, even on a newer rally car, replace the engine and transmission mounts.
Wash the car after each event and thoroughly check nuts and bolts for tightness. Check suspension components for damage. Look for wear in places that you would not expect such as cracked motor/transmission mounts, dented exhaust pipes and bent wheels. Change brake fluid between events and other fluids regularly. Check for metal flakes that would indicate an upcoming problem.
This kind of maintenance is cheap and will give you the advantage of extra time to repair any problems you find. Discovering a hidden problem at an event can either end your day early or incur increased costs if you have to repair it in a hurry.
Stockpile a supply of body panels if you can. A journey through a wrecking yard will tell you whether or not body panels are readily available. Having a car for which glass, sheet metal or even suspension and engine components are easily obtainable can truly cut your costs.
Choosing a seriously quick car that has no known rally pedigree or a car that is rare can mean that you become the chief development engineer on its rally program. While this can be a lot of fun, it can also be more challenge than a beginner rallyist needs to take on.
On a personal note, the rewards of rallying that I have experienced started with an intensely satisfying feeling of accomplishment for simply finishing. The sport is tougher than you might think. Much tougher. I also enjoy driving the rally car as close to the limit of adhesion on gravel as my limited skills allow. Building a car is a lot of fun. It has to be. The ratio of preparation time to actual seat time is very high. Summing the lesson here, drive to the skill level, the financial commitment and time investment you can afford.
Also, I have met some people who simply astound me with their generosity, their friendship and their commitment to the sport. They are fiercely competitive and highly determined to be involved in rallysport no matter what their funding level. It's a very tightly knit community whose members will draw newcomers in like long lost family and offer as much help as they can.
But you will also need to have that same level of determination because there will be significant challenges to overcome. If you have a marathon race disposition rather than sprint race mentality, if you thrive on adversity and are willing to develop your self confidence then rallying will be very satisfying. All the best on your involvement in the sport!