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Road rallies are an exciting and sociable form of motorsport, with crews tackling a navigational challenges to visit a series of checkpoints in country lanes, often through an evening or even overnight.

The video below gives you a flavour of a 12-car version of a Road Rally:

Road rallying covers a wide range of events, from historic car rambles through the countryside to hardcore overnight events. Somewhere in between are '12-car' events which are the type of road rally Southern Car Club organises as part of the Weald 12-car championship and is the subject of this page. Think of them as night-time orienteering on four wheels:

  • As the name suggests, under this kind of permit, a maximum of 12-cars are allowed in the event

  • As the event takes place on public roads, competitors are required to obey traffic laws at all times, with time targets based on a 30mph average. The onus is on the navigational side.

  • Only road-legal, lightly modified cars are eligible, making this the most accessible form of rallying

  • Entry fees are low - around £50

  • Drivers and navigators just need a (free) Motorsport UK RS Clubman licence and Club Membership

  • Events take about 2 hours and cover 40 to 50 miles​

  • The risk of car damage is low

  • It is a good training ground for Stage Rallying, especially for navigators

Finishing in the pub means there is an opportunity to recount stories of derring-do or commiserate on getting lost in a sociable atmosphere.


The route usually starts and finishes at a pub, where signing-on is at the start and results are at the end of the evening. Beginner navigators are given a plotted route on a map whereas, novices, semi-experts and experts are given navigational clues with the latter's being harder. Novices get some time before the start to plot the route onto the map, whereas semi-experts and experts have to plot the route as they drive - known as 'plot and bash'.

There are many different types of navigational clues that can be used, all relating to a specific 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map. Types of clue given include:

  • OS grid references

  • Tulip diagrams of each junction

  • Junctions described by the colour of the roads

  • A herringbone description of a series of junctions

  • References to the side of the grid square you should exit from

  • Map traces of the route which you need to map to grid squares

The winners are those who complete the cleanest run - i.e. fewest passage control fails - with time penalties only being used in the event of a tie-break.

Online road rally test

You can try navigating yourself: open the PDF, above, and follow the instructions for Southern Car Club's 'Southern Soirée' 12-car rally from October 2021, using the navigational clues and an online Ordnance Survey map.

Explanations of the different types of navigational clue are included; to check your route was correct (of course it was!) or if you get stuck (of course not!), you can find the correct plots and route in the answer pack.

Photos courtesy of Paul Griffiths


Only cars with up to 4 cylinders are eligible, and only limited modifications are permitted or, indeed, beneficial. A nimble car with good handling is the main criteria, making sure that the navigator has the best possible set-up that suits how they like to work.


Specific regulations are:

  • Paintwork all one colour, with no primer visible and no sponsor logos etc.

  • Standard wheel arch extensions

  • All major internal trim present (headlining, inside door panels, carpets, and rear seats)

  • A maximum of four forward facing beams, included those fitted as standard

For the navigator, the following can be useful:

  • a headtorch and/or map light

  • a romer, to help plotting on a 1:50,000 OS map

  • a poti to magnify and illuminate a map, and a power socket for it

  • a rally tripmeter once you are a semi-expert

  • a sense of humour





A marshal on a road rally
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There are dozens of Passage Controls (PCs) and several Time Controls (TCs) on the route, and each need manning by a couple of marshals.

You will be assigned to a checkpoint number and given the OS Map reference for some small layby or verge in a random country lane. Remember to bring a clipboard, pens and torches. On arrival, you should find a PC board - if you don't, then check your map reading! Make sure you're parked up in the right direction and make yourself comfortable in your temporary home. You don't look suspicious at all...

After the course opening car arrives, the 12 competing cars will start showing up, with their spotlight beams arriving some time before they do. You need to give them the 2-letter code for your time control, and make a note of their car number and arrival time. If they arrive from the wrong direction, they get a 'Fail'.

Once the course closing car arrives, you are free to retire to the pub!





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I’ve always been a navigator.  ‘Navs’ may not get the same glory as the driver, but they’re an essential component in a three-part team – driver, navigator, car – pitting themselves against everything the organisers, the route, the road and the conditions bring.

Road rallying holds a special place in my heart.  I started in 1977, hung up my ‘poti’ in 1986 and now, nearly 40 years later, am returning to 12-car rallies.

I enjoy the challenge and excitement, both seem amplified by the ‘cloak of darkness’: somehow, it just wouldn’t be the same in daylight. I enjoy the satisfaction of solving the instructions and getting the route on the map.  I enjoy the exhilaration of using my hard-earned skills to guide the driver along what can be a torturous and devious route.


There are always plenty of thrills - and a few ‘spills’ - but little can the match the contentment when you get everything ‘just right’.


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