Before you all get hyped up and over react thinking that this is a call to rise up, no need to worry as this is not the case. Rally is also what we call our beloved discipline in Motorsport and it is still my first and long lasting love.
Rally is a race against time, where you are flagged off one at a time in a closed or controlled road, may it be on dirt or on tarmac. There are a lot of kinds of Rallies, from long distance, Dakar type rallies where you have bikes, trucks and prototypes all doing battle in 3 weeks of competition, to short, 1-day TSD rallies that you can even use your street driven cars.
There is a resurgence of bringing the old rally spirit back. There is a group that has formed the Philippine Rallycross Championship which will have its first event today, October 2, at Novaleta, Cavite. Rallycross is a head to head duel on dirt in other countries but here, it is running one at a time and is like doing slaloms on the dirt.
Because of this, some friends had asked me for some tips on how to start in Rallycross and hopefully, move on to Rallies in the future. Here are my suggestions to those who would like to be a rally driver and be like WRC champion drivers Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala of the VW team.
Before you go out and spend your hard earned money, make sure you spend it wisely and invest it in the essential safety equipment that you will need. First up is a new, full-face helmet that passes the latest standards of DOT, Snell and ECE. I know it’s very confusing to know which helmet will be right but the most important thing is it passes the standards set by the organizers of the event and fits perfectly.
Next is to get proper 6-point seatbelts with a rally/race seat for the crew in the car. Seatbelts have a shelf life of only 5 years before these are not allowed in bigger competitions. However, some organizers allow the older belts especially in shorter and lower speed events.
A well designed bucket seat will make the driver feel more of what the car is doing because you have more support at the back, sides and thigh areas. It doesn’t recline which saves weight and gives you the proper upright, sitting position. You can still maintain the original seat rails to move it forward and back.
Next up is a roll cage of at least 4 point in design and preferably, welded in place. The required specifications and materials are listed in the FIA rulebook but the workmanship is crucial to the proper installation of this safety item.
A well designed and made roll cage will create a safety zone for the driver in case of an accident. It also has a big effect on giving the chassis tremendous strength to handle the rough conditions and make it turn better. Of all the car modifications that you can do, the roll cage will be the basis if it’s a winning car or not.
Read the rulebook
There are a lot more safety items needed like fire extinguishing system, power cut-off switch, hood locks and tow hooks to name a few. These should all be indicated in the event’s rulebook and should be installed before the event or the car will not pass technical inspection and no race.
The rulebook will also give you an indication of which class/es that you can join. If you are building a car from scratch, it is always good to see where it will be able to compete and what modifications are allowed in it. It will foolhardy for someone to think that a 30-year-old stock car can compete with the latest models even if they are of the same engine displacement. Just look at our 1985 Mitsubishi Lancer 2000 Turbo before with 175 hp compared to the new Toyota 86, non-turbo, which produces 200 hp in stock form!
Another important matter that the rulebook should explain is the event format. This will show how a participant wins in their class or the whole event. Each event will have their own unique set of rules and if you can’t understand it, you should ask the organizers. This is why you should also attend the driver’s briefing before the start of the event all the time.
If there is any problem during the race, the rulebook will also explain how you can file a protest and seek the organizer’s action for it. A good event will have their own set of stewards that will decide on protests and hopefully, will be fair to all the participants. With the different attitude of organizers, you will find it hard to talk to some but most will settle them fairly and immediately.
Once you have prepared the car to pass the safety inspection and modify it according to the rules in your class, then the driver and car should now be shaken and stirred to gel together.
Practicing with a good mentor will be the best way to improve the driver’s skills right away. He or she can give you tips on how to drive properly and avoid mistakes that a beginner will not know they are committing. This is one of the best things that you can do and the driver will avoid a lot of heartaches in the process. I should know, as I never had a mentor when I started.
Another good side effect of practicing before the event is that the car is also being sorted out. This R&D is very crucial as there are a lot of things that can go wrong and it will usually do during the event itself! Just look up what Murphy’s Law says.
Just say no
These are just some of the basic tips that I have given some friends to prepare for their big event. However, I worry that these suggestions are just a scratch on the surface and there are still a lot of things to do.
I have also told the parents that if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it! There is always going to be another race/rally and it will only take one frustration or accident and you might extinguish their racing spirit. I know it is hard for a parent to say no to his son or daughter, but part of racing is instilling discipline in all parties and that includes the parents, too.
I hope to give you more tips in the future as we start to revive rallying. Good luck and Godspeed to all!