What is rally?
What Is Rally?
There are actually two different flavors of rallying here in the United States. The flat-out racing kind is called stage rally, or performance rally, or off-road racing rally. The other is called road rally, precision rally, or T.S.D. rally (the letters standing for Time Speed Distance). The biggest thing that they both have in common is both require a driver and a navigator.
This is actually the simpler of the two. Stage Rally consists of a series of timed races, called stages. A stage is anywhere from one to twenty five miles long, and is usually a forest or logging road. The roads are closed to the public, and each competitor starts one minute after the next. Thus the challenge is driving the road, not rubbing wheel to wheel with your competitors. Keep in mind that the driver has never been on the road before, and has no idea what is behind the next curve or over the next hill. The navigator is equipped with a special odometer, accurate to the hundredth of a mile, and a route book which tells them what turns to make, as well as especially dangerous sections to watch for, like cliffs or river crossings. All of the stages, sometimes called special stages, are linked by transits, which are regular roads. Because the vehicles have to travel from one stage to the next on these transits, all of the race vehicles actually have to be street legal!!!
The vehicles need to be fully prepped for racing. This means a full roll cage, racing seats, skid plates, five point harnesses, and so on. Also common is seam welding the body, reinforcing the suspension, removing the interior, and re-designing the entire drive train. These are all out race vehicles that are loud and a nightmare on the streets. Definitely not daily driver material!
Because of the large amount of unknowns and the rough condition of the roads, there is a large potential for damage to the cars. This means that the service crew is a vital part of a team's final placing. Much more than many other motor sports, rallying is a team effort. The driver must be skilled, but must also heed the navigator. The navigator's job is to make the driver go as fast as they can, which involves either giving or withholding information! Both of them need to be able to fix the vehicle on the race course if something goes wrong, and the service crew has to be ready to keep the car running, somehow, till the next service.
The events are spectacles in themselves. Anywhere from twenty to one hundred and twenty or more teams participate. A large rally might have 600 people working the course as timers, crowd control, communication and radio relays, stage captains, safety marshals, and officials.
Time Speed Distance rallies are much more technical than stage rallies. For starters, it's not a race. And you can do it in any car, no rollbar or skid plate needed. A garden variety, low power, front wheel drive car should be able to complete a TSD rally without any problems. On the other hand, if your uncle will lend you his Ferarri, that probably would be more fun. If there are going to be any un-paved sections to the rally, a truck would also do just fine.
You are actually told how fast to go in the instructions. These special instructions are called CAS, standing for Commence Average Speed. So, if the instruction was 'Right at T, CAS 48' you would go straight till you came to a T, turn right, then average 48 mph until the next CAS instuction shows up. The events occur on regular, non-closed roads, at or under legal speeds. It is difficult to explain how this can actually seem very quick.
Like stage rally, cars start on one minute intervals. If you catch the car in front of you, either you're going too fast, or they're going too slow! Figuring out which of those scenarios is actually happening can be quite difficult.
The challenge is in the navigation and maintaining the correct speed. For example, if traveling at 60 miles per hour for 60 miles should take an hour. What you don't know is that somewhere along the way you will be clocked to see if you are on time. And you need to be within 0.6 seconds to get a perfect score! Add to that the deciphering of the route, and the changing of speeds, and things start to get pretty complicated!
There can be anywhere from two to thirty checkpoints in a rally, and the courses are usually from fifty to 250 miles long. Rallies put on by local clubs are generally about 100 miles, with nationals usually being about 250 miles in a day. Once you add in the fuel stops, breaks and checkpoints, a rally generally moves along at 30 to 40 miles per hour, so a 100 mile rally should probably take three to four hours to complete. As long as you don't get lost.
The complication level of the instructions varies from event to event. Some rallies will give you the exact mileage to every turn. Others only give you distances during the odometer calibration leg.
For novices, road rallies like this is a very fun way to spend a weekend afternoon driving around. Generally roads are chosen that are fun to drive at normal speeds, and the well planned rallies have pretty good scenery too. Moving up into the advanced competition beyond what occurs at a local level requires some special equipment, but only special odometers, not the massive investment in safety devices that ProRally takes. Another bonus is that there are often some pretty cool cars to look at, because people with nice cars are always looking for something to do with them.
"Brisk" TSD Rally
This interesting hybrid of the two is quite interesting, and, as far as we can tell, the most similar to many of the road rallies that are held in Europe. You are still assigned speeds, but they are brisk, meaning that there isn't much time to dally. The roads used are generally backroads, often unpaved, and sometimes quite rough. Since there's no speed limit on a road through a farmers' field, the assigned speed can be near the limit of the road. Of course, permission from the owner has been obtained beforehand, and we're talking about maintaining 40 mph on a road that you would usually travel 25 on, so it is definitely not a stage rally, but add the stress of staying on time and finding your way around, and it's tough!!! Only stock vehicles that are designed for off-road activity will survive unscratched, regular cars will probably need skid plates and the like.
Depending on where you are in the world, there are many sanctioning bodies. Here in the US events are sanctioned by either NASA Rally Sport or Rally America. TSD rallies are usually held by local clubs whos focus is often primarily autocross.
So yes, all these events are legal, and permission has been granted by someone for use of the roads. For TSD rallies, explicit road usage is not required, but the police are usually informed so that they know what is going on. It can be a little strange for someone living on a normally quite road to see 50 cars go by, exactly one minute after each other, when that would normally be a months worth of cars.