Rally racing is a form of automobile racing that takes place on normal roads with modified road cars.
A Subaru Impreza WRX competing in a car rally.
There are several categories of rally cars. In the World Rally Championship, the cars used are modified road cars, often based on turbocharged, four wheel drive versions of standard small cars such as the Subaru Impreza WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. One prototypical rally car is the Audi "UR-Quattro". The cars are further modified for greater power and torque, and fitted with suspension and tyres specifically suited to the conditions of the specific rally, which make take place entirely on bitumen roads, different consistencies of gravel and dirt roads, and even snow-covered roads on some rallies held in northern Europe.
A rally course consists of a sequence of relatively short (up to about 50 kilometres) timed "special stages" where the actual competition takes place, and untimed "transport stages" where the rally cars must be driven under their own power to the next competitive stage. Rally cars are thus unlike virtually any other top-line racing cars in that they retain the ability to run at normal driving speeds, and indeed are registered for street travel.
In most rallies, including those of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), drivers are allowed to run on the tracks of the course. In these reconnaissance drives, the co-drivers, who sit next to the drivers, write down notes on how to drive the course. These "pace notes" are repeated during the actual race, allowing the driver to take the course as fast as possible.
In the past - and until recently in the United States - most rallies course were not allowed to be scanned prior to the race, and the co-drivers used maps supplied by the organisation. The exact route of the rally often remained secret until race day. In 2002, US rules now also allow "course notes", giving much more detail than a typical route book be available to all competitors, but the route still remains secret and there is no reconnaissance.
Because the drivers don't know exactly what's ahead, the lower traction available on dirt roads, and the driving characteristics of small four-wheel-drive cars, the drivers are much less visibly smooth than bitumen circuit racers, regularly sending the car literally flying over bumps, and sliding the cars out of corners. The entertaining nature, and the fact that the vehicles are in some cases closely related to road cars, draws massive spectator interest, especially in Europe, Asia and Oceania.
Rallying is a very popular sport at the "grass roots" of motorsport - that is, motor clubs. If you are interested in getting involved in rallying, joining your local club is the best place to start. Club rallies are usually run on public roads, and the emphasis is on navigation and teamwork. These skills are a great way to learn about rallies as you progress to higher level events. To find out more, try one of these links: