I know, I know. Rally is about driving fast. 10 years fairly immersed in the sport has shown me it’s about so much more, though. It’s about control. Vehicle control. Self control. We rally fans sometimes point out that, while a Formula 1 driver might see a corner 50 or 60 times in a race, a rally driver is likely to see 50 or 60 corners just once. What’s more, the rally driver has only the verbal instructions of his co-driver as a basis for proper setup into each corner.
There is such an incredible amount of trust involved in rally. Think about it for a minute. The driver has to trust the navigator’s reading (and interpretation) of the pace notes. The navie has to trust the driver to execute on his or her instructions without looking up from the notes while ripping through the woods at speed. And they both have to trust the courseworkers have fully closed the road to civilian traffic.
Most of the time, rally teams never see the competition outside time controls and service. They decide how hard to push the car – and themselves – based on timing information they get only in bits and pieces over the course of the day. It’s a classic game of strategy and tactics. Do you pressure the guy a few seconds ahead of you in an effort to catch and pass him? Do you settle into a groove and hope the pressure leads to his making a mistake? What if you’re the one in the lead? Will you have your service crew bolt up the new tires at the next service or save them for the morning? The game is constantly changing.
Kris Marciniak, who drives the Rallynotes Dodge Neon with his wife Christine, explained it way better than I ever could in an interview earlier this year:
“The sport of Rally exemplifies and rewards teams skilled in multiple disciplines and there is often just as much weight put on months of planning as those quick side of the road, complete change of plans, decisions. I love that rallies have been won and lost based on the driver and co-drivers ability to get the vehicle moving again. I love that rally challenges me on like thirty levels at the same time. I love that hundreds of people need to interpret the same instructions in order to get a stage setup. I love that on a rally weekend I will be using my skills as a communicator, mechanic, hacker, engineer, and driver at the best of my ability. I love that I get to do this sport with my wife. Her diverse skill set equally compliments my own, and I appreciate how rare that is.”
Yes, rally is about driving real cars on real roads real fast. There’s no denying that, but get a little closer to the sport – close enough to get good and dirty – and you’ll start to see the deeper, collaborative side of things. Rally has so many moving parts. The fact we can go out and thread all these people and machines through the woods on a timeline measured in hundredths of a second is just incredible. None of us rallies alone (see #1, again), and just being part of the rally machine is something to be proud of.
What’s YOUR favorite aspect of rally?