First time on a rally stage – what to expect?

There is first time for everything, both good and bad in life. Well, if you’re about to attend your first proper rally and you’re wondering if it’s going to be bad experience or a good one, fear not – it will 99.9% be amazingly good.

Despite rally being very accessible sport (if you can consider 130 GBP ticket as such), first timers might find it pretty complex and hard to spectate, mostly due to the nature of the sport and it’s “structure”. More often than not, if you’re visiting a different part of the country or even going abroad, you will have to organize your own little rally just in order to make it to the stages. You need proper planning, maps, as many local sourced information and the most important thing – bring a friend or few of them.

Let’s presume you’ve made to the stages in time and in one piece, and you only got lost 5 times en route because you did not want to ask for directions despite numerous pleas from your passengers to do so. Asking for directions is just, I don’t know… I never ask for directions! That’s why I was circling around La Defense in Paris for hour and a half before I could find a way to the #%#%”! hotel. But I digress.

So, you made it to the stage – first and foremost and never to be underestimated. Ever. Pay attention to your surroundings, always do as you’re told by marshalls and security staff and also pay attention to your surroundings. If there is a 1/1000000000 chance that something driving down the road can reach your spot then you can be sure it will happen – today, next year or 10 years from now. But it will happen. Countless accidents happen in rally all the time and more often then not they’re very freak and bizarre. Make sure nothing is blocking your escape route, and you have a space around so you can move quickly – never go in the big crowds unless they’re on a grandstands or something similar. Well, you will do as you please, I’m just saying what my experiences have tought me – you need to be able to move fast – whether it’s because you want to run for your life from the crashing car or, well, that should be enough…

If there is an accident, be extra careful. Cars are coming in precise intervals, and oncoming car might not be aware that the road is blocked and you don’t want to be standing in the middle of the road with WRC car screaming towards you after jumping the blind crest at 160 km/h. Stay out of the way of security staff and marshalls but don’t hesitate to help if it’s safe. Remember, rally cars are lethal projectiles and drivers have a utterly complicated job of trying to keep those projectiles on the road, they care about corners, braking points and speed, don’t bring yourself into that equation or it will end up in tears.

Be polite and be nice and be social, you know, the old way social… talking, joking, and that sort of thing. You’ll feel much better and you’ll be able to enjoy everything much more. It’s about having fun.

If you’re grumpy, in a bad mood or just can’t seem to have fun no matter what you do – rally stages are probably not the best place to be. You will very likely need to walk quite a bit to reach a good spectating spot. Once you do there might be people there, and lots of them. Inevitably, some will be properly fueled up by various additives and hence loud and a bit enthusiastic. Let’s say you survive all this and just when you thought you will be able to relax a bit, the news came that stage start is being delayed for 30 minutes. Ok, not so bad. But if the next thing gracing your rally debut is a heavy shower… you get the picture, you really must be prepared for anything and be unlike many others – you will LOVE to stand out in the rain, or knee deep in snow, or in searing heat and dust, you will wait as much as it takes, just to be able to see 40 or 50 cars for few seconds each. If you’re on a local or regional rally then the number of cars might be significantly larger.

Spectating a rally stage is outdoor activity and you are on your own. That does not mean you will need to hide in a belly of a dead cow or drink your own piss, but it does mean you will want to bring some rain clothes if there is a chance of rain, some food and drinks, perhaps a blanket or a folding chair. To some, rallies are way of life, they camp on stages, walk for miles and miles, barbecue while spectating and in general have a great time outside and doing what they love.

As you can see, this “guide” is not written as a Rally Virgin 101, all it takes really is some common sense and some stuff you would probably take on your outdoor excursions anyway. If you’re new to rally, don’t be shy, ask others about the rules and favourites, listen to their experiences. You will be amazed how many fantastic stories are made on each rally, especially if you travel too far. Like the funny incident we had in Monte Carlo back in 20002., our little Fabia was so covered in dirt that we got pulled over by a policeman who was reluctant to touch it with his immaculate white gloves… instead we were politely asked to wash the car, at least the licence plates.

You can be sure, you will never forget your first rally, ever. Keep your wits about you, stay positive and most of all enjoy the day out. You can even write me back and describe your rally spectating debut. Have fun!