Motorsport: Beginner's guide to rallying

Citroen rally driver Mikko Hirvonen in Argentina. Photo / Supplied
Citroen rally driver Mikko Hirvonen in Argentina. Photo / Supplied

What is a rally?
A car rally is a competition of speed against the clock where drivers in specially prepared cars race over sections of closed public and forestry roads. Drivers start at one or two minute intervals. At the end of the event the driver who has taken the least time to complete all the stages is the winner. Drivers get time penalties for taking too long to service their cars or for being late to clock in to the start of a special stage. These penalties are expressed in time (eg 10 seconds for every minute late) and are added to the overall time.

What is a special stage?
A special stage (SS) is a section of road that is closed off to the public to allow the rally cars to race over. These sections of road are made safe by having all roads leading onto the special stage blocked off with tape and "No Entry" signs. Safe spectator viewing areas are set up by the organisers with safety tape to define the area and safety marshals to guide the public into these areas. Whistles are used by the marshals to warn of the approach of rally cars.

What is a touring stage?
This is the section of road that links one special stage with the next. Drivers have to obey normal road rules while driving these touring stages. Drivers must complete these sections of road keeping to a strict timetable and are penalised if they are late to "clock in" at the start of the next special stage.

What is a super stage?
This is a specially designed track that allows the public to view the rallying close up. The track design can include spectacular jumps and water splashes and, unlike the normal special stages can have two cars rallying side-by-side against each other and the clock for thrilling action. This provides excellent family entertainment without having to got out to the forest and countryside.

Who starts first on the road?
The drivers are "seeded" on the entry list with the fastest drivers first. Similar to tennis seeding lists, drivers' previous competition results are taken into consideration when calculating this order. The top drivers who work for the Manufacturers Teams in the World Rally Championship are always placed on the seeding list first. For the start of the event the WRC registered drivers compete in a timed qualifying section on the day before the event starts. The fastest is then invited to choose his preferred event start order, then the second fastest and so on.

How do rally cars differ from ordinary cars?
Rally cars have extremely powerful motors that are designed to withstand high speed and high revs for a long period of time. Rather than purely "top-end speed", such as is needed for a circuit racing car, the motors, gearboxes and differentials in rally cars are designed to give very quick pickup through the twisting, turning special stages.

The shock absorbers and steering equipment are strengthened to withstand the bumps and jumps at high speed. The body shells are also strength-welded. Where possible light but strong material is used to give strength without the added weight, eg carbon fibre disc brakes, Kevlar underbody protection.

The drivers are protected with roll cages are built inside each car to protect the crew in the event of a crash. The crew are further protected with full harness safety belts, strengthened seats, crash helmets and fireproof overalls. Should a car catch on fire each car is required to carry fire extinguishers.

How do rally cars differ from each other?
The cars that compete in the Rally New Zealand are divided into three groups: production cars, modified cars and World Rally Cars.

Production cars are quite similar to performance cars that you can buy from your local dealer; eg Subaru WRX RA, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. These cars have to retain road-going trim including rear seats and all internal fittings.

Modified cars have more powerful engines and may have internal fittings removed to make them lighter.

WRC cars are prepared by the World Rally Championship manufacturers teams and are designed to a special set of rules they are more developed versions of the Modified Cars.

- NZ Herald

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