Getting Started in Rallying

Welcome To Performance Rallying!

To a rally driver it's an all out, day or night race on an unknown dirt road, trying by sheer concentration to blend a high-strung, production based race car and the road into an unbeatable stage time.

To a co-driver it’s the thrill of the world’s greatest amusement park ride, combined with the challenge of performing with great mental accuracy under the most physically demanding conditions.

For the spectator it’s a view of the most exciting and demanding of motor sports. Around the world, rallying is wildly popular, attracting huge crowds that line the roads at every event in the FIA World Rally Championship.

In a performance rally, each team consists of a driver and co-driver (navigator). The cars start at one or two-minute intervals and race at top speed against the clock over competition stages. Connecting the stages are “transits” on public roads where cars must obey the posted speed limits. The teams achieving the fastest combined times on the competition stages win. Drivers stay on existing roads, and never blaze their own trails. Stages can combine into some 100 miles in a two-day rally.

Great news for those who want to participate are rallycross events, basically autocrosses on unpaved surfaces. Entry requirements and entry fees are minimal, making them an excellent place to get started in rallying.

Who Organizes Rallies? What Types Are There?

Rally America (RA) and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) sanction and insure the majority of performance rallies in the United States. Other sanctioning bodies are the United States Automobile Club (USAC) and the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) for selected events. The California Rally Series (CRS) has regional championships in various classes and includes events organized by all of these bodies.

Stage rallies require a co-driver and fully prepared vehicle (rollcage, safety harnesses, etc.) and use a “routebook” with highly accurate mileages to define the course. They range from simple “coefficient 1” local events of 10 miles or less, to longer “coefficient 2” rallies with 10-30 miles of stage roads to “coefficient 3” events with 30-65 miles. Larger rallies such as those in one of the national championships usually include 100-150 miles of stages over two days.

“Rallysprints” are coefficient 1 events that only require a driver and are often held on closed stadium courses. Rallycross events also require only a driver and these autocrosses-on-dirt give the other members of a rally team a chance to compete in the team car! In fact, rallycross competition allows almost any vehicle - license, insurance, and rollcage are not required!

What Are The Championships?

At the national level there are events located across the country, from snowy Michigan terrain to Southwest desert foothills, and on forest roads from Maine to Washington State. The Rally America Championship series encompasses nine events. The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) and the United States Auto Club (USAC) sanction the United States Rally Championship (USRC) which is comprised of ten events in two Divisions, Atlantic and Pacific.

At the regional level, Rally America (RA) supports championships in four regions across the country. The top three teams, in each class, in each region will be invited to the Regional Cup Championship Event.

The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has three Inter-Divisional Championships culminating in an annual RallyCross National Championship event.

The Western States Rally Championship includes RA and NASA events across the western United States. Its goal is to foster head-to-head competition in existing classes at existing coefficient 3 events, at a level between the two national series and local championships such as the CRS.

The California Rally Series, formed in 1975, has three regional level championships based on events in or near California. The “CRS Rally Championship” consists of pure stage rally events, for fully prepared cars. The “CRS Rallysprint Championship” consists of rallysprint events, also for fully prepared cars. The “CRS Rallycross Championship” includes Rallycross events only, for both prepared and street vehicles. An event may count toward only one of the three championships.

What Vehicles Run? In What Classes?

For stage rallies and most rallysprints, vehicles must be street-licensed, and meet certain minimum liability insurance limits. A wide variety of cars and trucks compete, although sports sedans tend to dominate.

Rally America recognizes seven classes. In Production and Production GT, vehicles conform very closely to stock specifications. Production Class cars have a maximum of 2650 cc adjusted displacement. “PGT” cars are usually turbocharged and all-wheel drive, with no upper displacement limit. In contrast, the three open classes allow extensive modifications. There are two open classes for two-wheel drive: Group 2, with a maximum 2400 cc adjusted displacement (no turbos or rotaries), and Group 5, for all engines up to 5100 cc adjusted displacement. The fastest class is Open Class, where turbocharged four-wheel drive cars predominate (5100 cc limit). The Group N class is for “homologated” cars meeting FIA (world rally coordinating body) specifications. The historic class is for vintage rally cars.

USRC recognizes four classes. The USRC Open All Wheel Drive (AWD) class corresponds to RA Open Class. The USRC Open Two Wheel Drive (2WD) contains both RA Group 2 and Group 5 vehicles. USRC Production AWD includes RA Production GT and Group N, and USRC Production 2WD matches RA Production Class.

California Rally Series classes overlap with the classes above since CRS points are earned at events sanctioned by both RA and NASA. However, there are some important differences, especially in the “stock” classes. The three open classes in CRS (CRS-2, CRS-5, and Open 4WD) have few limitations and are similar to the open classes in RA and NASA.

CRS also has two “stock” classes which restrict vehicle preparation thereby limiting the cost of vehicle preparation. Both Stock Classes are self-policing and self-governing. Performance Stock Class requires cars to be two-wheel drive, with normally aspirated four cylinder engines and a maximum value of $4000. CRS GT Class is for four-wheel drive, usually forced-induction vehicles prepared with the same restrictions as Performance Stock class cars except for two important differences. First, there is no price limit for the basic vehicle, and second, there is a requirement for a 32 mm inlet restrictor for all turbo or supercharged cars.

In the CRS Rallycross Championship, four Modified car classes (4WD and 2WD, with and without rally tires) are recognized . In addition there are two unique street car classes, for cars without performance modifications that, in addition, are not running rally tires. These classes are Street Stock 4WD and Street Stock 2WD. Some Rallycross events also add “custom” classes based on the local entry.

What Are The Expenses? What Are The Awards And Prize Funds?

Racing is expensive - there's no getting around it! Given that fact, it is still possible to get more seat time for your dollar behind the wheel of a rally car than in most other forms of motorsport. It’s real racing, but in a car you could actually drive to work (and some people do!). You can get in a lot of “sideways time” just taking an afternoon off to go testing or practicing – something you certainly can’t do in a regular “race car” (just be sure to block the practice road from civilian traffic!). And you may find that having two people on a team means two people are splitting the costs, which can be a big help. So what are the expenses?

The best way to go rallying cheaply and immediately is to buy someone else’s rally car! You will pay 50 cents on the dollar for all of the modifications and you will have a ready vehicle, logbook and all, at the next event. You should seriously consider this option before deciding to go to the trouble and expense of building a car – even if it’s just for your first year or two while you “learn the ropes.”

To prepare a basic rally car or truck yourself for rallies and rallysprints, you can expect to spend a certain amount on vehicle preparation and additional money on purchasing equipment for both the car and its occupants. Basic safety equipment for the car includes a roll cage (typically $800 to $1500 – these come prefabricated for bolting or welding in, or can be fully custom-built). Some reinforcing of suspension parts is a good idea, for a tough suspension is essential. Expect to spend $200 to $800 for springs, and $400 to $1500 (or more) for shocks. The car will need two or more fire extinguishers (around $50 unless you opt for a full fire system), and racing seats (begin at $150 each). Racing harnesses, five to seven point, start at $70 per person and must be replaced or rewebbed every five years to meet safety requirements. A hundredths-reading odometer can often be bought used for $200 or less; new models usually run $250 – $500. A top-end navigator light costs around $40 although cheaper substitutes can be found. Driving lights are another item you may be able to find used. New driving lights start at around $100 each and may require special wiring or prefabricated harnesses ($40-$80 for two lights, typically).

Two other items generally considered indispensable are a skid plate or plates, which may be fabricated for $80 to $150, and rally tires, which generally cost at least $130 each. You may need to upgrade wheels if you are bending or breaking them. There are a variety of small items that need to be added to your car as well (tool box, battery box, tire tie-down method, D.O.T. triangles, etc) – but these can cost a little or a lot depending on your ingenuity and “connections” with other rallyists!

These are the basic items to build a beginner car; you then may choose to add performance modifications such as computer chips or other engine upgrades, a limited slip differential, brake bias control, etc depending on what is allowed in your class.

Sometimes you can find used equipment for driver and co-driver as well – or borrow these items until you can afford them. Helmets have certain certification requirements shown by their label and start at about $180. Driving suits start at $90 and run the gamut from a plain color to completely custom designed, and from treated cotton single-layer suits requiring fire-retardant underwear, to double or triple layer in various materials. Again, certification labels show the capabilities of these suits in protecting you from fire. You may choose to add driving gloves and shoes and other personal equipment, although they are not required. It is important to check the current certification requirements for the sanctioning bodies.

Entry fees generally run from $20 to $40 for Rallycross events. Coefficient 1 rallies and rallysprints may cost $100 to $150. Coefficient 2 and 3 rally entry fees range from $200 to $450. NASA events require an annual membership ($40) and rally license ($50). RA events do not require an annual membership, but do require a Rally License ($100 for Regional or $200 for National). CRS membership ($30) is not required at events unless you wish to earn CRS championship points.

Other expenses you must anticipate include racing gas for higher performance engines, and possibly a bit higher insurance fees to meet liability minimums for both the rally car and designated service vehicle. Most rallyists choose to buy or borrow a trailer to tow their car to events. Motels and food are part of a rally weekend’s expenses, and can vary widely according to your budget and tastes.

After adding up these expenses, can you expect to cover them by winning money or getting sponsors?

The simple answer is: NO! Very few rallies have any money left in their budgets for prize funds, as they try to keep entry fees as low as possible. The Laughlin International Rally is the notable exception, with a handsome prize fund spread throughout many classes. You can expect a trophy to the top third of the starters of any CRS rally in each class, however. In addition, the year-end Awards Banquet presents up to five of the top finishers in each class with top-quality photo award plaques for the Rally and Rallycross Championships. The Rallysprint winners are also honored if that championship takes place in a given year. There are several other year-end awards given, including Rookie of the Year and Outstanding Worker.

Sponsors are difficult to obtain, but not impossible. The best chance for sponsorship is in your own community. You may find businesses that are willing to give you services, such as tire changing and balancing, in trade for placing their name on the side of your car. While many rallyists manage to find a bit more sponsorship, even some cash, it is important not to enter the sport with this expectation (alas, this isn’t Britain or Europe in that respect!). Better to plan your rally season within your budget and run what you can afford. Any prize money or sponsor help will get you to more events or allow you to move up to the next level.

How Do I Get Involved?

Many prospective rallyists get into the sport by volunteering to help at a rally as a control worker. The advantage of this is that you gain an understanding of the timing system, get to know the organizers and competitors, and may find a rally car for sale sooner. You will also begin to appreciate what works and what doesn’t in car preparation, and may even learn from others’ mistakes in driving and co-driv-ing!

Watch for the rally schools held several times a year. They cover all aspects of the sport. Most even give you hands-on driving or co-driving experience and help you move out of the beginner seed (Seed 8). Plus, they’re a lot of fun!

A beginning point for many drivers, surprising as it may seem, is co-driving. Although it’s not easy, it is worth learning at a rally school or by running with an experienced driver who gives you pointers. Especially if you run with a fast driver, you will be far better prepared when it’s your turn to drive. Rally driving techniques are unlike those in other motorsports. Co-driving is also a cheaper way to get into competition!

Of course, nearly half the competitors in the sport are co-drivers by choice! They enjoy the challenges of “the hot seat” and the fact that they can rally much more frequently than driver/car-owners. A good co-driver will be sought after and can move up to national-level competition more easily than a driver.

Before you tackle working, driving, or co-driving, you may also choose to volunteer to help on a team’s service crew. This is an excellent way to get to various events and learn about the sport.

It is important to develop friends and mentors in rallying. The great news is: rallyists are extraordinarily helpful to each other and especially to newcomers. They are truly “impassioned enthusiasts” eager to share the excitement and rewards of their sport, and you will have no trouble getting information whenever you need it. Check the list of CRS organizers on the calendar and the CRS officers in the back of this rulebook for a starting point. Also plan on contacting the Chief Tech Inspector (for car prep advice) and your local rally steward. You will also find a lot of helpful information on the web – most events now have their own website or you can go to one of the excellent general rally websites. These include:

So make your plans and join the fun! Good luck in your rally career!