Road Rally Driving
Road Rally Driving, motor sport generally run over public roads in controlled conditions and usually lasting several days. International professional rally driving is a test of endurance and speed over great distances and in more challenging conditions than those provided by a course closed to the public. Professional international rally drivers such as Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen, Richard Burns, and Carlos Sainz now use what essentially are pure racing cars, and rallies are held across deserts and other forms of rough terrain in many places, including Africa and Australia. Though some Formula One drivers, such as Stirling Moss, have also been rally drivers, most drivers are specialists in this sport. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is the world governing the body of all automobile sport, including international rallying.
Road rally driving involves drivers using tuned production rather than special cars, negotiating streets and country roads, while adhering to strict time schedules and routes. Contestants are expected to reach a series of checkpoints at specified times, while maintaining a certain average speed set by the race’s organizers, with penalties for arriving too early or too late. Competitors must follow a specific route often over obscure roads, so the driver needs a navigator, and odometers, stopwatches, and technical in-car computers are necessary equipment. The Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association (RACMSA) is the major sanctioning body in British rallying. Both the FIA and individual country bodies including RACMSA have rules for both organizers and competitors, in relation to the running of events, preparation of cars, and so on, and all participants, at any level from the once-a-year amateur to the full blown professional, must adhere to these rules at all times or face fines or bans.
Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler are credited with independently building the first motor cars but it was not for about 20 years after the mass introduction of the motor car that rallying took off and there began the great endurance events such as the Monte Carlo Rally and Liège-Sofia-Liège, both of which survive to this day. The Monte Carlo, which began in 1911, is held annually and originally started in different European cities, with the vehicles converging on Monte Carlo, Monaco. Nowadays, modern rules mean that the rally follows the same format as other rallies on the calendar. By the year of the Monte Carlo rally’s inception rallies were well-established and any private motorist could enter these endurance events, where the competition was run on public roads, against the clock, and participants had to cope with the weather as best they could, not to mention the rigours of sleepless nights behind the wheel.
As the technology of car preparation developed, so too did the imaginations of event organizers, to the point where races were held in settings ranging from the eastern African plains to the French Alps, and the twisting lanes of mid-Wales. The longest of these events is the East African Safari (first run in 1953) of over 6,234 km (3,874 mi); Britain’s most prestigious rally is the Rally of Great Britain, previously known as the Lombard RAC Rally and the Network Q Rally, which was first held in 1927 as the RAC International Rally of Great Britain.
By the 1950s motor manufacturers were beginning to appreciate the sales rewards to be gained from competition success; Ford, Rootes, Standard Triumph, and the British Motor Corporation, in particular, all ran extremely successful “works” teams, and the number of rallies mushroomed, both of the long-distance endurance variety and shorter, single-day events, still run on public highways and predominantly relying on tricky map-reading navigation and careful timekeeping for success.
In the 1960s and 1970s the sport was revolutionized: closed roads, both of tarmac and through-the-forest gravel surfaces, were used for cars to compete purely against the clock. Stage rallying was born, and to this day survives as a multimillion-pound industry. Navigation was simple, with the driver relying on the co-driver (rallying has always been a two-member team sport) to plot the way on open roads from one stage to the next, then call the “stage” corner by corner as the driver sped flat out over the often inhospitable terrain. A world championship for makes of the car was instituted in 1968 followed by a drivers’ championship (the FIA Cup for Drivers) in 1977 and a championship for co-drivers in 1981.
By the mid-1980s all modern rally driving had developed into the stage variety. In reaction to this, enthusiasts created new races based on the cars of the golden era of the 1950s and 1960s and earlier, and “historical rallying” was born. Both stage and road rallying have burgeoned in “historical rallying”, relying on nostalgia to bring out literally hundreds of cars of the type that saw action in their contemporary heyday.