If you want to practice football you all you need is a ball in your garden or at the park, football boots and shin pads if your practicing with friends. Practicing rally driving isn’t as straightforward but there are a number of steps you can take to practice the special techniques used by professional rally drivers.
At a professional rally driving school
The first is to complete a course or series of courses at a professional rally driving school. You will be shown the correct rally driving techniques, then taught how to implement them and during your course build your skill level in each. A patient, considered approach is usually best in the early stages, there’s a lot to learn. Bill Gwynne, founder of Bill Gwynne Rallyschool International, the first professional rally driving school in the world told all his students that “To learn how to go fast, first you must learn how to go slow”.
Local motor club
The next step is to join your local motor club, details of these can be found on the Motorsport UK web site, where you will find a group of experienced and helpful competitors and organisers, only too willing to help you into the sport they love. They’ll be able to give you advice on the choice of suitable cars for your first rally car and tips on preparing it to ensure it meets Motorsport UK regulations, to which events to look at beginning your rally adventure with.
Buying your first rally car
With their advice in mind the next step is to buy your first rally car, there will be plenty to choose from. If you’re not very mechanically minded it would be advisable to take a rally mechanic friend or an experienced person from the motor club with you to view any car you’re considering.
There are three ways you can continue your rally practice in preparation for your first competitive special stage rally. You can go back to the rallyschool you previously enrolled with to take a 1:1 course in your own car. In addition to driving coaching you will get invaluable advice on car set up, the best tyres, tips on car preparation and a review of what to expect on your first rally. Whilst getting onto the start line of your first special stage rally is at the top of your list there are two other forms of competitive event that you should consider for practice in driving against the clock.
Entry level competitive rally practice
Autotesting involves a series of tests, generally around traffic cones, to measure precision driving skill. The tests include stopping with the front or rear wheels straddling a line, and stopping in a garage (usually marked out with cones). Sections of each test may be completed in reverse. Cars can be standard road cars, rally cars or cars specially built for autotest. In either case, the sport is cheap, entries fees between £15 and £25. They are great entry level club events and great practice for car control. The 2001 World Rally Champion Richard Burns started his competitive driving in Autotests. The winner is the driver with the lowest combined time from the six to eight tests.
The second type of event is called AutoSolo. In the UK it is a form of motorsport based around the principles of autotesting, the main differences being that the tests are run in a forward direction only and are usually slightly faster and more open than traditional autotests. Courses are also usually longer and in run in one direction. As with autotests, the winner is the driver with the lowest combined time from the series of runs through the course.
Both types of event are great for learning how to practice the driving techniques you’ve been taught under the pressure of setting the fastest time you can.
Your first special stage rally
Having completed the steps so far a driver will be well prepared to compete on their first special stage rally. Most drivers choose a single venue rally to begin with. They are usually run on disused airfields or racing circuits. They’re the most economical with simple logistics. The routes usually use largely the same competitive roads for the special stages with small changes or reverse direction to provide the day’s competitive mileage. A significant benefit of this format for new crews is they get the opportunity to do each special stage twice and a large part of the route several times and compare their performance each time.
Multi venue special stage rallies take place on forest gravel, tarmac or mixed surface roads and involve crews driving between special stages on public roads. This is the format used by the World Rally Championship and most National Rally Championships. Once drivers have completed the learning process described previously they will be prepared and very eager to enter their first event of this type.