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UNDERSTANDING
CAR TRIALS

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Trials are a very accessible form of motorsport, providing challenges for all car types - from your daily driver to specialist vehicles. Usually a navigator accompanies the driver, making it a real team effort.

Get a flavour of a trial from the in-car footage below:

Trials events involve uphill courses ("tests") where crews must get their car as far as possible without stopping and avoid hitting the markers along the route. There are different tests for different classes of car, with standard and classic cars able to opt for less taxing tarmac tests. There are two formats:

Road-based trials: These require navigation along a prescribed route, with stops for the tests and results determined by aggregate scores across the event. These events are either long distance "Endurance" trials that normally include night-time sections, or shorter, "Day" trials.

Single-site trials: All sections are off road and often on grass sites - which lowers the risk of car damage.

For this type of motorsport:

  • Entry fees are moderate to low.

  • Club Membership and a (free) Motorsport UK RS Clubman licence is required for both driver and navigator, and a full driving licence for the driver on road-based trials.

  • On single site trials, cars can be shared by two drivers and drivers as young as 16 can compete if
    accompanied by an adult.

  • Trials test not only the driver, but the navigator and the car too – the Endurance trials can be very
    tough indeed!

  • Trials help progress car handling skills and are competitive, but in a fun and sociable atmosphere.

Events like these require a lot of manpower to run, from event planning, entries secretaries and scrutineers before the event to marshals on sections and time control marshals at checkpoints. Volunteers are always welcome!

THE COURSE

ROAD-based TRIALS

For trials involving public roads, there is usually a single route, navigated from a route card. There are strict rules on average speeds, compulsory breaks, etc. The route is normally sent out a couple of weeks in advance, but sometimes, as an additional challenge, only given out on the day.

Land's End car trial route
SEE FOR YOURSELF

Check out the route for the Land's End Trial below

Along the route will be a number of sections that are steep uphill climbs and which are graded according to different classes of cars. The tests are laid out with tape and cones and may feature ‘restarts’ to increase the difficulty. The climbs are driven 'blind' and must be made in a continuous fashion - any stopping, other than at a class restart, means the end of that run. There may also be short timed special test sections and regularity timings, plus occasional route indicators to record.

SINGLE-SITE EVENTS

As the name suggests, these are held on a single site which means the event is more compact and easier to run and compete in. It also means that the cars do not have to be road legal. In fact some classes are for very specialist machines.

Sections are marked out to give an uphill route, with sequentially numbered pairs of canes. There are normally three or four rounds, with variations made to the route during the day.

A car doing a car trials event

Competitors can walk the route first, to familiarise themselves with it and work out the best way to tackle it. They then try to drive as far as possible without stopping and without hitting a cane. Aggregate scores decide the winner, with ties decided in favour of whoever stayed 'clear' longest.

Single site trials are generally less damaging than endurance type trials as the terrain is often grass as opposed to rocky climbs.

Photos courtesy of Simon Robson, Dave Cook and Kevin Lindsay

THE CARS

There is a classes to suit most types of car, although 4WD and commercial vehicles are not permitted. 

Modifications are regulated for each class and type of vehicle. A totally standard production car can be used, but some measure of modification - particularly protection - is both permitted and wise. There are also specific classes (and even separate events) for heritage and historic vehicles.


Tyres must not be too aggressive (no 'knobblies') and no aftermarket traction control is allowed. The most common type of vehicle is either a production or kit car that has been raised to improve ground clearance and has under shields fitted.

 

It is advantageous to have a car with most of its weight over the driving wheels, with a lower ratio and strengthened drivetrain and one which is able to carry two spare wheels (punctures are common), a tyre pump and a fire extinguisher. Roll cages and harnesses are not mandatory, as it is generally a slow speed sport and has a very good safety record.

Second-hand trials cars are typically £5-10k, and with numerous classes dictated the type of car and its  modifications, there will always be close competition.

Videos courtesy of Andy Kennett and Chris Taylor

VOLUNTEERING

AT A TRIALS EVENT

 


MARSHALLING & ORGANISING

A marshal at a car trial at Fry's Bottom
Marshals at a car trial

There are marshal posts at each section around the course and each post will be manned by 2 or 3 marshals. In addition, marshals will ensure competitors are fully stopped at the correct point before tackling each section.

Volunteers are also needed to set out the course beforehand. Good outdoor clothing is a plus! 

In-car on a car trial at Ubley

Marshals need to:

  • note any infringements by competitors

  • mark if they passed or failed a section

  • reset the course if necessary

  • make the Clerk of the Course aware of any safety concerns

  • help guide any cars if they fail the section

A guide to marshalling at a car trial

COMPETING

AT A TRIALS EVENT

SPOTLIGHT ON...

JACQUELINE MANSFIELD

Cars at a car trial
Competitors on a car trial

We started competing in car trials about 5 years ago when we came across the MCC and their 'triple' endurance event (3 separate trials held throughout the year; The Edinburgh, The Lands End and the The Exeter). 

There are numerous off-road tests but you have to follow a prescribed route to get to them - they're about a 13-hour events over 200+ miles.  

We work as a team; Don drives and I navigate. It involves a lot of prep before the event - running through the route making sure it all makes sense, highlighting any important instructions such as QQ sections (where you need to be quiet and drive slow so as not to upset residents). I read Don the instructions and navigate from section to section; also letting him know any guidance about the test sections (is it a restart, is it timed, are there any changes etc.) I also keep an eye on mileage, times and breaks as there are strict rules to keep to. Some navigators help with adjusting tyre pressures and other things to support their driver.

I love trials - they are fun and there is great camaraderie.  Some of the sections can be quite hair-raising and get the adrenalin pumping, but the joy you feel when you complete a section makes it worth it. The weather makes a huge difference - we have been very wet and bedraggled at times and, at other times - on a crystal clear night - it's just a beautiful feeling.  

I would highly recommend it - but suggest partnering with someone you get on well with!

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