So, you watched Travis Pastrana in his Subaru
at the X Games and now you’re convinced that you can get your Mom’s Outback at least six feet off the ground if you were just given a dirt jump and the chance. Well, it’s time to put down your PS3 game controller, turn off MotorStorm, and borrow a helmet. Rallycross is the closest thing you’re probably going to get to the X games without any money or talent.
Rallycross is similar to autocross, based on the fact that there is one car out on the course at a time racing against the clock. The course is delineated by cones in a large empty area. The important difference is that Rallycross is a race on dirt. Yes, you and your car will get dirty. The other main difference between the two sports is your autocross time is based on your single fastest lap around the track (like qualifying), whereas Rallycross is set up like a stage rally. Each lap is a separate stage, and each stage counts toward your total and final time.
As a total newb, I made the mistake of blowing a muddy corner at a Rallycross and sliding off the racecourse. I had to go into reverse (once I finally found it, bloody Volkswagen!) to get back on the track. I lost a crap load of time farting around with the tranny, but since I was a seasoned autocrosser, I really didn’t care. “I’ll get ‘em on the next lap,” I said -wrong! That was when I learned the all important lesson about Rallycross, every lap/stage counts. Just like in the bigs, like in the WRC.
If you want to feel some adrenaline, this will get you there in spades. It’s awesome. Rallycross is all about pushing speed just to the edge of control...and holding it there. Rallycross courses are designed for drifting front wheel drive, yes I said it, front wheel drive cars, around corners. The pressure of getting around a twisty dirt track with almost no traction as fast as possible without making any mistakes (like sliding off the course like me) gets your blood flowing. It’s racing, it’s dirty and it’s a hell of a good time.
With nothing hard to hit other than some orange cones, the car wear is pretty limited. However, the amount of car wear at a Rallycross is directly dependant on your right foot and the chemical balance in your brain which measures the “I want to win at all costs” factor versus the “this car has to get me to work tomorrow” factor. Doing well does not mean you have to drive you are jacked up on an episode of "Bait Car". And although extremely rare, I have seen a car upside down at a rallycross. Less rare are tires pulled off their beads (avoidable and fixable). This is off road people. Lesson here, take it easy and leave the red Monte Carlo Rally Limited Edition Mini Cooper S at home.
Because the tracks are set up with cones, the tracks are always changing, which means on your first lap you don’t know where to turn left, or is it right? Get there early and walk the course. Sometimes we will do a low speed parade lap around the track while driving the cars. Just like autocrossing, half your day is spent racing and the other half is working (chasing knocked over cones). When you work a Rallycross course you get the joy of eating dust as each car goes by. Go ahead and invest about $2 in one of those dust masks for painting houses. There are days when everyone working the course at a Rallycross looks like they just came from a building implosion.
You are going to get between 4 to 8 shots at the course (depending on the time or the weather). Go fast, but don’t go too fast, remember every lap counts so any off course blunders will haunt you and keep you far from the trophy table. Stay off the cones, they are worth a 2 second penalty added to your overall time.
You will be running with people in your class, (similarly modified vehicles classified by either two wheel drive or four wheel drive. Whichever class you’re in, try to avoid going on track right after the water truck, although sometimes it can’t be avoided. At times the water truck is a necessary evil at a Rallycross. It keeps the dust down, but it makes the course as slippery as snot.
These guys and gals like their rally racing. Rallycross brings a mix of people from the rally side of things, the autocrossing community, even pro rally teams, all with a single love for sliding in the dirt and kicking up dust. The guys from the Edmonton Rally Club also like their pizza and Brew. After a recent event, the entire crew of competitors took over a restaurant and the beers and bench racing flowed for hours.
We have trophies and awards at each event. The club has point systems for the championship. But as far as glory goes, you won’t be standing on a podium showering Miss November in champagne here… unless you win “the Eliminator”.
OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?
This is a relatively new sport. It’s one that hasn’t had each class taken over by some rich guy who can afford a new Porsche every year to easily win the national championship. Anyone could rise up and be "the man" (or woman) in this world of racing. Every year there is a ton of competition for the "Most improved" trophy. Maybe ask to jump in a couple of the faster cars as a passenger to see where you can pick up a few seconds and study the way everyone drives while you are out marshalling. I've seen newbies who were consistently last end up on the podium with a first place trophy within a year.
Like most motorsports, tires is the name of the game. They actually divide some of the classes up based on the tires you use. Among other factors, purpose built rally racing tires put cars in the “open” classes. There is a ton of debate over which is the hot tire for the “stock” car classes, and the measurement between tread blocks has to meet a certain minimum to be considered legal for the class. Just about any aggressive winter tire seems to be a popular choice as well. There is no real proven formula (car/tire) to winning at Rallycross. The dirt and lack of traction is a great equalizer.
Some the guys who win swear the whole thing is done by left foot braking. However, if you’re anything like me, your left leg is a clutch leg, and any attempt to use the clutch leg on the brake pedal only results in stopping way too fast and throwing a passenger through the windshield. Go-Karters with their fancy European left foot braking skills would probably do well here.