Rallying – what is it?

FILE PICTURE: Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (Team Volkswagen Sasolracing) driving a S2000 VW Polo during day 2 of the 2013 Volkwagen Rally on July 20, 2013 in Uitenhage, South Africa. (Photo by Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images) .The 2013 Volkwagen Rally starts in Uitenage on Friday, July 19, 2013 and end at Kings Beach, Port Elizabeth on July 20, 2013.

Motorsport experts tend to agree the best drivers in the world are to be found in rally cars, and that very few other forms of the adrenaline game can match the challenges and spectacle of this speed discipline.

A national championship rally is made up of a number of timed special stages connected by open liaison sections. Competitors would generally start an event at some public place, such as a shopping centre, and leave the start line at two-minute intervals.

They then use an official route schedule to travel to the first of the special stages. While travelling on public roads, rally crews must observe all road regulations, including speed limits. Getting a traffic fine from the authorities on the open road will incur competitors a large time penalty from the event organisers, or even exclusion from the event. The open sections have to be completed in a specified time, meaning that crews must book into every special stage or other official checkpoint at exactly the right time.

Penalties are applied for earliness or lateness, and crews may not leave the official route, on pain of exclusion from the event. In this way, rally cars will ideally be separated by two-minute gaps throughout a given day’s route. Once booked in at the first special stage, the crews will tackle the stage – a piece of road closed to other traffic – as fast as they can go. Their time through the stage is determined electronically, by using their official start and finish times.

If a competitor starts a special stage at 10h30 and finishes it at 10h41, he will be given a stage time of 11 minutes. Stages are mostly run over gravel roads on farms or through forests, and would generally be between 10 and 30km long. Rally organisers plot the routes with the idea to include fairly long straights, fast sweeping corners, undulations and tight corners, in order to test both the driver and navigator. Crews get to drive through the special stages at low speeds twice in the day before the rally, to compile what they term “Pace Notes”.

Those would typically be descriptions of each corner, as agreed to by the driver and navigator, and used to determine their pace, on the day of the rally, through every section. For instance, “Straight 150 over crest into left – easy flat” would translate into a very rapid charge through the next 170m of road. Alternatively, “Straight 60 caution into tight right – do not cut” would call for a much more careful approach. Every event will have a central service park, where crews’ technical teams wait for them. The crews will generally return to the service park after every special stage, since they can totally ruin a set of tyres in a 20km special stage.

Generally speaking, technical crews have 30 minutes to work on a car before it must leave the service area again, and they frequently change things like differentials or gearboxes in those 30 minutes. Again, rally crews would incur time penalties for leaving the service area late. At the end of the day, each crew’s total stage time will determine where they lie in the rally. South Africa has two main classes of rally cars. Topping the list are S2000 cars. They are normally aspirated, four-cylinder, two-litre, modified all-wheel-drive cars weighing in at 1300 kilogrammes.

The secondary class is for S1600 cars – normally aspirated, 1600cc, modified two-wheel driven vehicles that weigh in at 1100 kilogrammes. The cars’ technical specification is determined by the international governing body of motorsport, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) of which Motorsport South Africa, our local governing body, is a member.

The South African Rally Championship consists of eight rounds per year, spread all over the country.

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