Rally 101

Rally vs. Rallycross

So you’ve heard about rally racing, but there seems to be two types… what’s the deal? The simplest answer is that rally is one car at a time on a public road closed for racing, and rallycross is multiple cars running together on a closed course specifically designed for racing.

To get more involved, it’s best to start with the cars themselves. Rally and rallycross cars are both production based and are often similar models and even share some similar parts with one another. But the similarities end quickly in terms of how much preparation is allowed in each discipline. For rally, the rules are intended to keep the cars as close to what can be built and driven legally on the street. And that’s the big catch: able to drive on the street. Rally cars need to be street legal, pass emissions, carry registration and legal insurance, all the things a normal car has to do. From there, they are allowed to be modified within a strict set of rules to keep the playing field fair and ensure the safety of competitors and spectators. As in all competition, competitors do their best to stretch the rules to the absolute limit, but organizers check each car before and even after competition to ensure every car fits the rules.

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Rallycross cars, on the other hand, are allowed much more performance and specialized modifications, which often results in amazing technology that produces astounding performance. The cars are not required to be street legal, they do not need functioning lights, are able to replace most of the body panels with other materials, and often modify structure underneath to withstand the beating they receive. Some of the best automotive performance numbers ever recorded have been from rallycross cars.

The other major difference is the areas on which they run. Rally cars run on actual public or private roads closed to traffic, and race one at a time on courses called stages. Each stage is timed, and co-drivers (or navigators) ride in the car to inform the drivers of the road ahead as they approach it as fast as they can, while attempting to traverse the stage in as little time as possible. Once finished with the stage, they drive on public streets (at the speed limit) to the next stage, where they do it again. They are held to a strict time schedule, so any delays or early arrivals are penalized with added time, which is then combined with the overall time of the driver/co-driver team’s stage times. The real principle of rallying is endurance, since the stages can be long and all of the stages together can make for a long day. The other unique characteristic of rallying is that the roads are not perfect; they may be public roads, but many times they are gravel or even snow-covered, which presents all sorts of challenges to the teams as they attempt to race as fast as possible on a road they may have never seen, and is covered in snow. And sometimes at night.

Rallycross cars on the other hand, run on a closed track designed for racing, and run against one another door-to-door. What separates rallycross from other types of track racing is the varied surfaces that the cars run on. They may be on a paved track, but the course will often take the competitors into the infield that is covered with gravel or mud. The surface changes add to strategy and complicate the setup, as some driver/car combinations are better on one surface than the other. This close-quarters action results in plenty of unintentional contact; competitors do not “intend” to ram each other, but lots of power on a slippery road often results in plenty of indiscretions. The winner is the traditional “first car across the line”, with an elimination-style grouping of races to weed out the slower cars. The final race, which includes the winners of the previous heats, often results in mayhem unlike any other motorsport, with cars trading places several times on a single lap, muscling their way from gravel to pavement.

Both styles require adaptability and finesse not found in most track situations. The drivers of either discipline are often experienced and well-rounded, having spent a lot of time training in all sorts of different racing rather than focusing on one type. In the end, the driver with the most skill, determination, and endurance will win, and the fans are always rewarded with brilliant displays of car control.

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