Rally Basics

What is rally?

In this article, we talk about “the queen of motorsports” – rally! One of the oldest forms of motorsports offers unique challenges and rewards consistency and caution as well as raw speed. Spread across several days, rallies cannot be won in one day and drivers are taught not to take unnecessary risks early in the rally. Depending on category and rules, competitors are sometimes allowed to rejoin the event after crashing or retiring due to mechanical issues, but with time penalties.

Join us and learn all you need to know about one of the most exciting forms of motorsports.

Most basic information about rally

In a rally, competitors race on public roads (which are closed to the public during races) as well as forest and mountain tracks with the ultimate goal to be the fastest ones on each stage. For example, if rally consists of 15 stages, each crew will set different time on each of the stages. The total sum of results of each stage determines the winner – less time needed to cover all 15 stages means a better position in classification!

Read below to learn more about stages, drivers, co-drivers and more!

Rally Stages

Rally stages vary in length, from short ones to really long stages, covering over 40 kilometres. Rally organizers often pick technically challenging roads, with inclines or declines and tight turns, in order for crews to show their skill and consistency. Very often weather plays a major role in rallying, more on that in the next paragraph.

Rally events are run over the course of several days. Each day consists of several stages, usually two or three, which are then run a few times during one day. One of the most commonly used formats runs two or three stages in the morning, followed by a lunch break and then crews return to same two or three stages for a second loop. During each set of stages, crews cannot use outside help to service their cars and they’re limited to set amount of spare tires. This can lead to unique challenges, if for example, rain falls on just one of two stages in given “loop”, crews will need to decide which tires to bring to stages and will need to adapt driving style to compensate for “wrong” tires.

In rallying “lingo”, days are referred to as “legs”, so the first day of rally is called “Leg 1” or “First leg”, etc.

Rally Drivers

Rally drivers are one of the most versatile in the world of motorsports. Unlike their counterparts in circuit racing, rally drivers need to be skilled in driving on various road surfaces. In rallies conditions often change very rapidly, and drivers must be able to respond with just the right combination of caution and speed.

Drivers must also possess one very important skill – knowledge of creating proper pace notes. You can read more about pace notes below.

Rally Co-drivers

Rally co-drivers are an extremely important member of rally crew – in fact, the driver can only be as fast as he is “in tune” with his co-driver and this teamwork is one of the most unique features of the rally. During the rally, event co-drivers are responsible for many different but very important tasks. The most prominent one, of course, is reading the pace notes during rally stages, but co-drivers are also responsible for keeping time both on stages and in service breaks. They also take care of all the paperwork during the rally.

One of the most important things about co-drivers is keeping time and taking care crew enters special time control zones within their predesignated time. Errors are very expensive – crew can lose from a few seconds to even minutes just because they entered time control zone one second too late or too early.

On stages, co-drivers read through pace notes, informing drivers on upcoming corners, straight sections, road surface conditions, inclines or declines and various other information.

Pace notes

Each rally crew depends on their pace notes making skills. Rally beginners often make simpler pace notes and as they get more experience they improve their pace notes, adding more details and developing their own style when describing corners, straights, obstacles or the need to go faster or slower.

Pace notes are created during special reconnaissance or recce runs. In top levels of rallying, crews are only allowed several passes through the stages and only in normal road cars. They must also abide to speed limits as roads are often open for public during recce. On recce, the driver will describe each corner and co-driver will write it down. Those descriptions become pace notes.

There are no set rules for pace notes. It is up to each crew to develop their own system if they want, but there are several popular preset systems, developed by rallying competitors over the decades.

One of the most popular systems uses numbers accompanied with either “left” or “right”, depending on the direction of the upcoming corner.

Numbers are in some cases roughly linked to gear in which car can safely travel through a particular corner. EXAMPLE: If co-driver calls for “left 4”, it means the car is approaching left corner which can be taken in fourth gear. In this system, lower numbers mean slower corners.

Numbers can also be used to describe the severity of the corner by comparing the corner’s configuration to dials on the clock. In such case, “right 2” means the car will approach corner which looks like you are coming from dial which is on number 6 and going towards number 2 on the clock. In other words, “right 2” would be a relatively easy corner, unlike “right 4”, which would be a very hard and challenging corner, requiring slowing down.

These are just two out of many, many possible combinations of pace notes. Usually, 90-degree corners are described as “square” in English, very tight and short corners are called “hairpins”, and depending on the length of corners or whether they tend to “open” or “tighten”, co-drivers will call out those additional descriptions as well.