• Survival of the fittest

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    MIKE POTENCIANO

    MIKE POTENCIANO

    My rallying history column last week elicited a mildly shocking post in Facebook from one of our younger enthusiasts. He wrote that he never knew that there was rallying ever here in the Philippines and only became aware of it after reading my article. This just confirmed what I have known for a while and it’s so disheartening that what I consider as the best form of motor sport is no longer remembered.

    After tracing our local roots in rallying last Sunday, I will now show you how hard it is to rally but hopefully, convince you why we should all revive it! So read on if you want to know more and help us bring it back.

    Ultimate test
    Going through dirt, mud, rocks, rivers, tarmac and other obstacles, manmade or not, you will have an idea why Rallying is considered the toughest test for both machine and its crew. There is no other race that traverses all these roads, or the absence of it, all in one event. Add to that the rigors of long distance events that last for weeks like the Dakar Rally, and you know that by just finishing is already a feat on its own.

    You have to go though the closed, special stages in super fast mode to post the best time to win. Definitely, It is not easy and a lot of factors come into play. If you don’t pay attention, someone else will and you’re relegated as a finisher.

    Driving skills
    Running on dirt is an entirely different animal and cannot be compared to any other form. The driving techniques needed like drifting the car way before the turn (which gave birth to Drifting), left-foot braking, doing hand brake turns and maintaining speed in all kinds of terrain is something truly astonishing to master and watch as a spectator.

    This is why rallies are so hard to win. You can be a master of other forms of racing like Formula 1 but it doesn’t translate that you will be good in rallies right away. Just look at F1 World Champion Kimi Raikonnen; no one can say that he is not a very good driver, but he concedes that he has not mastered the art of rallying yet.

    CO driver duties
    The driver is always the one raised on a pedestal when a car wins a rally, but what the others don’t know is that inside it, there is the navigator (now called the co-driver) that shares the equally important task of winning the event.

    The co-driver reads the all-essential road book or pace notes that tells the driver where to go. A miscue here usually leads to a wrong turn or worse, a terrific accident that ends their rally.

    He also makes sure what time the car will have to make it to the next special stage so as not to incur penalties. This hugely important task comes out when repairs have to be done that will eat up on their transport time. Controlling the pace of the driver is also very important since most drivers are just too excited and would like to win the event in the first stage.

    It will also be great if the co-driver has good mechanical and electronic skills to repair the car if ever they hit trouble. He should be able to make everything right inside and outside the car for the driver to perform well. This is no easy task and it’s often a thankless job.

    Therefore finding someone that is willing to sacrifice his time and effort is very hard. The only thing that will attract a co-driver is that he/she will have the best seat and biggest satisfaction when you both win the rally!

    Team support
    Rally cars will always need servicing and this is why no single member of the team can lay claim that he won the event, even the driver. Mechanics, electricians, body repair men, service vehicle drivers, team managers and a lot more will be needed for a good service team.

    Every time servicing is to be done on the car, it is always under a specified time. If the car comes in damaged, this will add more problems and will have to be addressed before anything else. Even the simple task of filling the gas tank with fuel can be mistakenly done with water in the heat of the moment. It happened to us before!

    The driver and co-driver will have to be fed with food and information as to how they are doing against their competitors. Even simple tasks like rushing to the next service point become a challenge if you don’t know the area. Thus, team managers will have to be very good and think fast to solve any problem that may happen with the car or the team’s service crew.

    Car preparations
    The factory teams have different specs for each type of rally, from the grueling safari-types to all-tarmac events. If you don’t have the luxury of having multiple cars prepared for each of the above conditions, then you will have to try and make a car that will fit to win all tests. The FIA has the minimum safety specifications published for rallies and our local FIA designate AAP has permitted to localize the parts needed for our events.

    The car’s chassis will have to be extra strong as it will be battered all the way and should withstand minor crashes to finish the event. The very important rollcage is not only for safety but makes the shell stronger and durable. A critical problem is that there are not many people that know how to prepare a good rally car and we will all be learning again from ground zero.

    High tech suspension, under chassis protection, important seats and belts, special wheels and tires, fire suppression system, navigational system and a lot more will be needed to compete in the event. These modifications will entail a lot of work and money which make it hard for most would be rallyists.

    I hope I made it clear that it will not be easy to go rallying. However, if it is pure driving pleasure that you seek, conquer your fear by taming the beast that you are driving in less than ideal conditions and post the best time in a stage, then Rallying is for you!

    After you assess yourself, let’s make a decision to go for it and bring Rallying back. Next week, I will now show you how our team will try to revive it. Godspeed!

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