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UNDERSTANDING
STAGE RALLIES

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When people think of rallying, it is usually stage rallying that they are thinking of: Colin McRae, Richard Burns and today's WRC stars, tackling all types of terrain faster than you would believe is possible, with a co-driver describing the road ahead in a stream of incomprehensible code.

Watch SCC's Max Utting tackle a number of multi-venue rallies in his clubman Fiesta:

Stage rallying is a lot more involved than some other forms of motorsport and requires a lot of organising as well as driving and - there are ways of minimising it, but - it is undoubtedly the most expensive form of rallying:

  • Cars must have a Motorsport UK passport, to show that they comply with the rules and they are scrutineered at each event to ensure they continue to comply with safety and modification regulations

  • Entry fees can get expensive - varying from £250 to £600 (and well beyond that for specialist events such as Rally Wales GB or the Roger Albert Clark rally).

  • Both driver and co-driver must have Club Memberships and a minimum of a RS Interclub (Stage rally) licence from Motorsport UK - and the driver will need to have passed a 'BARS' driving test to get one.

  • Events will have service halts for check, repairs, fuelling and tyres, so competitors will need spares, equipment and  support from a service crew, plus a car trailer to transport the rally car to the event

  • Events are either on sealed surface (tarmac or concrete) or a loose surface (gravel) with the former being either a 'Single-Venue' format or 'Multi-Venue'; gravel events are almost always the latter (see below)

  • With these being more specialist and complex events, travelling further afield is common - thereby requiring an overnight stay - and scrutineering is often held the day before the event

  • The risk of mechanical failure is high, as is the risk of car damage - especially on Multi-Venue events. Car upgrades for reliability and performance can be expensive with maintenance overheads to match.

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

THE COURSE

SINGLE-VENUE EVENTS

Often based on military ground such as an airfield or training area, a 'Single-Venue' (SV) rally is so-called because the event uses one stage repeatedly, with competitors doing three laps or so each time.

As venues such as airfields have wide expanses of tarmac, the course will often be defined with old tyres, cones and bales in order to make it twistier and more challenging.

The stage will be altered or added to in places during the day, and maybe run in reverse in the afternoon. Crews are issued with stage diagrams, and the co-driver will use these to direct the driver on stage.

'Service' is between stages, meaning the car can be worked on frequently. If you break down you will receive a 'stage maximum' time, but there is a good chance you can re-join and enjoy the rest of the event if your service crew can fix the problem.

Using a single venue - as the vast majority are a hard surface - keeps the cost down for the organisers, so the entry fees are cheaper for this type of event.

Bovington rally stage diagram

Check out the stage diagrams for Bovington above and a lap at Smeatharpe with SCC members Wayne & Chloe Bale below.

Smeatharperally stage in-car
SEE FOR YOURSELF

MULTI-VENUE EVENTS

Those that follow the WRC will be familiar with the 'Multi-Venue' format, where the crews take on a number of different stages and use normal roads to transit between them. The co-driver navigates these sections using the Roadbook and then uses Route Notes to describe the competitive stages to the driver.

Tarmac rallies using this format include the famous Epynt and Otterburn ranges, and the Jim Clark and Manx rallies. Almost all gravel rallies in the forests of the UK also use this format.

Using existing tracks around natural landscapes mean that the driving challenge and reliance on co-driver instructions are greater than SVs, as blind crests and corners and deceptive turns are commonplace.

One or two 30-minute service halts are the norm here, so any car issue on a stage can be terminal as well as providing you crew with a recovery headache!

The multi venue nature of these events and the additional costs associated with gravel rallies make entry fees much higher than for SVs. 

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Follow the Route Notes above as you ride along with SCC members Andrew Hebron & Jon Ross on a short tarmac stage in the video below.

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SEE FOR YOURSELF

Photos courtesy of Andrew Hebron

THE CARS

All cars need to have a Motorsport UK Passport; this means a certified rollcage, electrical cut-off switch and in date fire extinguisher system, seats and harnesses along with a plethora of other regulations from mudflaps to return springs on throttle cables.

The main choice is whether to go for a Historic spec car - historic rallies are increasing in popularity - or a more modern machine, and then what class to aim for. Classes are based largely around engine capacity, with forced-induction engines having a co-efficient of 1.7 (so a 1200cc turbo counts as 1840cc) and four-wheel-drives grouped into one class.

As a beginner, it is better to start in a lower class to get experience, although the top cars in every class are highly developed with speed and price tags to match.

"One make" series can offer competitive rallying in a reasonable budget, with modifications restricted and parts and suppliers already identified for you.

Cars can built, bought or hired, and each option has its pros and cons. As a beginner, the rule of thumb is that reliability is worth paying for and the best  performance enhancement is from improving the driver through maximising 'seat time' and coaching.

Rally cars are expensive to buy and maintain, but whilst a new Rally 2 car might cost over £200,000, more modest second-hand clubman-spec cars can be bought for closer to £10,000 - although the phrase "buyer beware" definitely applies here! For a beginner, hiring a rally car (with the appropriate insurance in place) or even entering a one-make series and buying a car with a known history in that series can definitely be a lower-risk option.

VOLUNTEERING

AT A STAGE RALLY

 


MARSHALLING & ORGANISING

A marshal on the rally stage at the Festival of Speed
A marshal on the rally stage at the Festival of Speed
The best way to get involved in motorsport initially is through marshalling.

Become an accredited marshal by registering with Motorsport UK and completing the short online course. It's quick, easy and free! You will receive a Marshal's pack and be able to start marshalling. We'll buddy you up with more experienced marshals to learn the the ropes. You'll find that marshals are always in demand and you'll be able to gain experience quickly.

Every Stage Rally needs marshals to man posts along the route to ensure the safety of crews and spectators. There is also a need for marshals to man stage starts and finishes - as part of the timing team - and time controls along the route.

A marshal on the rally stage at the Festival of Speed
Marshals on the rally stage at the Festival of Speed

Gaining experience and attending courses allows you to become a radio or timing marshal and then even a sector marshal or even a stage commander. Further down this path is the opportunity to become an event Official.

There are also volunteers required to help before an event, such as entries secretary and setting up the stages with the required arrows and signage plus the inevitable straw bales.

Rally stage set-up at the Festival of Speed
Rally stage set-up at the Festival of Speed

Those with specialist medical and recovery skills can operate within the rescue teams that are required on every event.

Medical crew at the Festival of Speed
Recovery crew at the Festival of Speed

COMPETING

AT A STAGE RALLY

SPOTLIGHT ON...

CHRISTIAN BROWN

Christian Brown competing at a stage rally
Christian Brown competing at a stage rally
Rally newcomer Christian shares his initial impressions of driving in stage rallies.

Chatting to a racing driver at a kart track and the need to do something different post-pandemic led me to the world of rallying.

 

I thought a single-make Championship was the best starting point, because the cars were a known specification and you are testing yourself against people in identical machines. The best option was the Mini Challenge; there are 3 established teams that you can hire cars from and the specification is very clear should you wish to build a car yourself.

I contacted Southern Car Club and went along to a test day with some of their members. Apart from getting some rides in rally cars, it was helpful to talk through options with experienced competitors and confirm what was best for me.

I took my BARS test at the London Rally School, bought my personal kit (helmet, HANS, overalls, boots and balaclava - budget £800 to £1,000), got my Motorsport UK licence and club membership and I was ready.

 

I hired a car through a company connected to the Mini Challenge. This took away the issue of preparing and maintaining my own car, finding a service crew etc. This connection also found me a co-driver which is an essential ingredient!

I took part in 5 rounds of the 2022 Mini Rally Challenge, and I can honestly say that it has been fantastic. I’ve had all the ups and downs - a round win, a big crash, mechanical issues and tuition from a British Rally Champion.

 

Rallying has been an amazing experience; there’s a lot to learn at the beginning, but both Southern Car Club and the Mini Rally Challenge communities have been so welcoming and helpful to a rookie. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, take advice onboard and get stuck in!

In terms of driving, each round taught me lessons just by completing stages and being at the events. There’s no substitute for experience! Seat time is king, so drive as much as you can. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow, it builds your confidence and skill which helps your car control and, ultimately, improves your stages times.

 

Rallying is so much fun - nothing beats the thrill of hurtling through gravel or tarmac stages. I’ve enjoyed round equally, and can’t wait to get even more involved next year!

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