Rally is a wide-ranging form of motorsport with various competitive motoring elements such as speed tests (often called rally racing), navigation tests, or the ability to reach waypoints or a destination at a prescribed time or average speed. Rallies may be short in the form of trials at a single venue, or several thousand miles long in an extreme endurance rally.
Depending on the format, rallies may be organised on private or public roads, open or closed to traffic, or off-road in the form of cross country or rally-raid. Competitors can use production vehicles which must be road-legal if being used on open roads or specially built competition vehicles suited to crossing specific terrain.
Rallying is typically distinguished from other forms of motorsport by not running directly against other competitors over laps of a circuit, but instead in a point-to-point format in which participants leave at regular intervals from one or more start points.
Rally: Road Competition with an imposed average speed run entirely or partly on roads open to normal traffic. A Rally consists either of a single itinerary which must be followed by all cars, or of several itineraries converging on a same rallying-point fixed beforehand and followed or not by a common itinerary. The route may include one or several special stages, i.e. events organised on roads closed to normal traffic, and which together determine the general classification of the Rally. The itineraries which are not used for special stages are called road sections. Speed must never constitute a factor determining the classification on these road sections. Competitions partly using roads open to normal traffic, but including special stages on permanent or semi-permanent Circuits for more than 20% of the total mileage of the rally, must be considered, for all questions of procedure, as speed Competitions.— Article 20 Definitions, 2022 FIA International Sporting Code
Road rallies are the original form held on highways open to public traffic. The competition element, if applicable, may be based on accurate timekeeping, navigation, vehicle reliability, endurance or motoring ability (Autotesting). They are primarily amateur events. Some common types are: Regularity rally or a Time-Speed-Distance rally (also known as TSD rally, testing ability to stay on track and on time), Monte-Carlo styles (Monte Carlo, Pan Am, Pan Carlo, Continental) rally (testing navigation and timing), and various Gimmick rally types (testing logic, observation or treasure hunts).
Stage rallying simply divides the route from the start to the finish of the rally into stages. Each stage may have different aims or rules attached.
The most common format of rally competition consists of speed competitions (also called speed tests); the quickest time taken to complete the stage(s) wins the rally. Due to road safety and traffic laws it is not common to see speed tests arranged on open roads in modern times, although historically they were arranged. The Safari Rally of the World Rally Championship famously used to include competitive sections on roads open to traffic even into the 21st century. Speed tests are now almost exclusively arranged on roads closed to traffic known as special stages. However, competitors complete each special stage following an itinerary and must arrive at and start each stage at a particular time in common with road rally rules, whilst adhering to traffic laws on open roads in between. A single-venue rally takes place without need for public road sections though the format and rules remain. The FIA organises the World and Regional Rally Championships and many countries' motorsport governing bodies organise a rallying championship using speed competitions. The stages may vary from flat asphalt and mountain passes to rough forest tracks, from ice and snow to desert sand, each chosen to provide a challenge for the crew and a test of the car's performance and reliability.
Cross country rallies, also known as Rally-raid, take place off-road using similar competitive elements to road and stage rallying speed competitions. The challenge is mostly navigational and endurance. The FIA Cross Country Rally Championship was inaugurated in 2022, including the Dakar Rally.
Many early rallies were called trials although this term is now mainly applied to the specialist form of motorsport of climbing as far as you can up steep and slippery hills or other extreme tests of motoring. Hillclimbing is essentially speed competitions over one closed stage, from one start point to one finish point.
Assemblies of car enthusiasts and their vehicles may still colloquially be called rallies, even if they involve merely the task of getting to the location (often on a trailer). The FIA defined this under 'rally' at least until 2007, though have now separated the term 'Touring Assembly' without using the word rally in its definition.
The term "rally", as a branch of motorsport, probably dates from the first Monte Carlo Rally of January 1911. Until the late 1920s, few if any other events used the term. Rallying itself can be traced back to the 1894 Paris–Rouen Horseless Carriage Competition (Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux), sponsored by a Paris newspaper, Le Petit Journal, which attracted considerable public interest and entries from leading manufacturers. Prizes were awarded to the vehicles by a jury based on the reports of the observers who rode in each car; the official winner was Albert Lemaître driving a 3 hp Peugeot, although the Comte de Dion had finished first, but his steam-powered vehicle was ineligible for the official competition. This event led directly to a period of city-to-city road races in France and other European countries, which introduced many of the features found in later rallies: individual start times with cars running against the clock rather than head to head; time controls at the entry and exit points of towns along the way; road books and route notes; and driving over long distances on ordinary, mainly gravel, roads, facing hazards such as dust, traffic, pedestrians and farm animals.
The first of these great races was the Paris–Bordeaux–Paris race of June 1895, won by Paul Koechlin in a Peugeot, despite arriving 11 hours after Émile Levassor in a Panhard et Levassor. Levassor's time for the 1,178 km (732 mi) course, running virtually without a break, was 48 hours and 48 minutes, an average speed of 24 km/h (15 mph).
From 24 September-3 October 1895, the Automobile Club de France sponsored the longest race to date, a 1,710 km (1,060 mi) event, from Bordeaux to Agen and back. Because it was held in ten stages, it can be considered the first rally. The first three places were taken by a Panhard, a Panhard, and a three-wheeler De Dion-Bouton.
In the Paris–Madrid race of May 1903, the Mors of Fernand Gabriel took just under five and a quarter hours for the 550 km (340 mi) to Bordeaux, an average of 105 km/h (65.3 mph). Speeds had now far outstripped the safe limits of dusty highways thronged with spectators and open to other traffic, people and animals; there were numerous crashes, many injuries and eight deaths. The French government stopped the race and banned this style of event. From then on, racing in Europe (apart from Italy) would be on closed circuits, initially on long loops of public highway and then, in 1907, on the first purpose-built track, England's Brooklands. Racing was going its own separate way.
One of the earliest of road races, the Tour de France of 1899, was to have a long history, running 18 times as a reliability trial between 1906 and 1937, before being revived in 1951 by the Automobile Club de Nice .
Italy had been running road competitions since 1895, when a reliability trial was run from Turin to Asti and back. The country's first true motor race was held in 1897 along the shore of Lake Maggiore, from Arona to Stresa and back. This led to a long tradition of road racing, including events like Sicily's Targa Florio (from 1906) and Giro di Sicilia (Tour of Sicily, 1914), which went right round the island, both of which continued on and off until after World War II. The first Alpine event was held in 1898, the Austrian Touring Club's three-day Automobile Run through South Tyrol, which included the infamous Stelvio Pass.
In Britain, the legal maximum speed of 12 mph (19 km/h) precluded road racing, but in April and May 1900, the Automobile Club of Great Britain (the forerunner of the Royal Automobile Club) organised the Thousand Mile Trial, a 15-day event linking Britain's major cities, in order to promote this novel form of transport. Seventy vehicles took part, the majority of them trade entries. They had to complete thirteen stages of route varying in length from 43 to 123 miles (69 to 198 km) at average speeds of up to the legal limit of 12 mph (19 km/h), and tackle six hillclimb or speed tests. On rest days and at lunch halts, the cars were shown to the public in exhibition halls.[unreliable source?] This was followed in 1901 by a five-day trial based in Glasgow The Scottish Automobile Club organised an annual Glasgow–London non-stop trial from 1902 to 1904, then the Scottish Reliability Trial from 1905. The Motor Cycling Club allowed cars to enter its trials and runs from 1904 (London–Edinburgh, London–Land's End, London–Exeter—all still in being as mud-plugging classic trials). In 1908 the Royal Automobile Club held its 2,000 mi (3,200 km) International Touring Car Trial, and 1914 the important Light Car Trial for manufacturers of cars up to 1400 cc, to test comparative performances and improve the breed. In 1924, the exercise was repeated as the Small Car Trials.
In Germany, the Herkomer Trophy was first held in 1905, and again in 1906. This challenging five-day event attracted over 100 entrants to tackle its 1,000 km (620 mi) road section, a hillclimb and a speed trial, but sadly it was marred by poor organisation and confusing regulations. One participant had been Prince Henry of Austria, who was inspired to do better, so he enlisted the aid of the Imperial Automobile Club of Germany to create the first Prinz Heinrich Fahrt (Prince Henry Trial) in 1908. Another trial was held in 1910. These were very successful, attracting top drivers and works cars from major teams – several manufacturers added "Prince Henry" models to their ranges. The first Alpine Trial was held in 1909, in Austria; by 1914, this was the toughest event of its kind, producing a star performance from Britain's James Radley in his Rolls-Royce Alpine Eagle.
Then in 1911 came the first Monte Carlo Rally (later known colloquially as "the Monte"), organised by a group of wealthy locals who formed the "Sport Automobile Vélocipédique Monégasque" and bankrolled by the "Société des Bains de Mer" (the "sea bathing company"), the operators of the famous casino who were keen to attract wealthy sporting motorists. The competitive elements were slight, but getting to Monaco in winter was a challenge in itself. A second event was held in 1912.
Two ultra long distance challenges took place at this time. The Peking-Paris of 1907 was not officially a competition, but a "raid", the French term for an expedition or collective endeavour whose promoters, the newspaper "Le Matin", rather optimistically expected participants to help each other; it was 'won' by Prince Scipione Borghese, Luigi Barzini, and Ettore Guizzardi in an Itala. The New York–Paris of the following year, which went via Japan and Siberia, was won by George Schuster and others in a Thomas Flyer. Each event attracted only a handful of adventurous souls, but in both cases the successful drivers exhibited characteristics modern rally drivers would recognise: meticulous preparation, mechanical skill, resourcefulness, perseverance and a certain single-minded ruthlessness. The New York–Seattle race of 1909, if shorter, was no easier. Rather gentler (and more akin to modern rallying) was the Glidden Tour, run by the American Automobile Association between 1902 and 1913, which had timed legs between control points and a marking system to determine the winners.
The First World War brought a lull to rallying. The Monte Carlo Rally was not resuscitated until 1924, but since then, apart from World War II and its aftermath, it has been an annual event and remains a regular round of the World Rally Championship. In the 1930s, helped by the tough winters, it became the premier European rally, attracting 300 or more participants.
In the 1920s, numerous variations on the Alpine theme sprang up in Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany. The most important of these were Austria's Alpenfahrt, which continued into its 44th edition in 1973, Italy's Coppa delle Alpi, and the Coupe Internationale des Alpes (International Alpine Trial), organised jointly by the automobile clubs of Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and, latterly, France. This last event, run from 1928 to 1936, attracted strong international fields vying for an individual Glacier Cup or a team Alpine Cup, including successful Talbot, Riley, MG and Triumph teams from Britain and increasingly strong and well funded works representation from Adolf Hitler's Germany, keen to prove its engineering and sporting prowess with successful marques like Adler, Wanderer and Trumpf.
The French started their own Rallye des Alpes Françaises in 1932, which continued after World War II as the Rallye International des Alpes, the name often shortened to Coupe des Alpes. Other important rallies started between the wars included Britain's RAC Rally (1932) and Belgium's Liège-Rome-Liège or just Liège, officially called "Le Marathon de la Route" (1931), two events of radically different character; the former a gentle tour between cities from various start points, "rallying" at a seaside resort with a series of manoeuvrability and car control tests; the latter a thinly disguised road race over some of Europe's toughest mountain roads.
In Ireland, the first Ulster Motor Rally (1931) was run from multiple starting points. After several years in this format, it transitioned into the 1,000-mile (1,600 km) Circuit of Ireland Rally. In Italy, Benito Mussolini's government encouraged motorsport of all kinds and facilitated road racing, so the sport quickly restarted after World War I. In 1927 the Mille Miglia (Thousand Mile) was founded, run over a 1,000-mile (1,600 km) loop of highways from Brescia to Rome and back. It continued in this form until 1938.
The Liège of August 1939 was the last major event before World War II. Belgium's Jean Trasenster (Bugatti) and France's Jean Trevoux (Hotchkiss) tied for first place, denying the German works teams shortly before their countries were overrun. This was one of five Liège wins for Trasenster; Trevoux won four Montes between 1934 and 1951.
Rallying was again slow to get under way after a major war, but the 1950s were the Golden Age of the long-distance road rally. In Europe, the Monte Carlo Rally, the French and Austrian Alpines, and the Liège were joined by a host of new events that quickly established themselves as classics: the Lisbon Rally (Portugal, 1947), the Tulip Rally (the Netherlands, 1949), the Rally to the Midnight Sun (Sweden, 1951, now the Swedish Rally), the Rally of the 1000 Lakes (Finland, 1951 – now the Rally Finland), and the Acropolis Rally (Greece, 1956). The RAC Rally gained International status on its return in 1951, but for 10 years its emphasis on map-reading navigation and short manoeuvrability tests made it unpopular with foreign crews. The FIA created in 1953 a European Rally Championship (at first called the "Touring Championship") of eleven events; it was first won by Helmut Polensky of Germany. This was the premier international championship until 1973, when the FIA created the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers, won that first year by Alpine-Renault. Not until 1979 was there a World Rally Championship for Drivers, won that year by Björn Waldegård.
Initially, most of the major postwar rallies were fairly gentlemanly, but the organisers of the French Alpine and the Liège (which moved its turning point from Rome into Yugoslavia in 1956) straight away set difficult time schedules: the Automobile Club de Marseille et Provence laid on a long tough route over a succession of rugged passes, stated that cars would have to be driven flat out from start to finish, and gave a coveted Coupe des Alpes ("Alpine Cup") to anyone achieving an unpenalised run; while Belgium's Royal Motor Union made clear no car was expected to finish the Liège unpenalised – when one did (1951 winner Johnny Claes in a Jaguar XK120) they tightened the timing to make sure it never happened again. These two events became the ones for "the men" to do. The Monte, because of its glamour, got the media coverage and the biggest entries (and in snowy years was also a genuine challenge); while the Acropolis took advantage of Greece's appalling roads to become a truly tough event. In 1956 came Corsica's Tour de Corse, 24 hours of virtually non-stop flat out driving on some of the narrowest and twistiest mountain roads on the planet – the first major rally to be won by a woman, Belgium's Gilberte Thirion, in a Renault Dauphine.[unreliable source?]
The Liège continued as uncompromisingly an open road event run to an impossible time schedule, and remained Europe's toughest rally until 1964, by which time it had turned to the wilds of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to find traffic-free roads; but in the end the pressures were irresistible. The Coupe des Alpes struggled on until 1973 until it too succumbed, its demise no doubt hastened by the decision of the French motor sporting authorities to select the Tour de Corse as its representative event in international rally championships.
These events were road races in all but name, but in Italy such races were still allowed, and the Mille Miglia continued until a serious accident in 1957 caused it to be banned. Meanwhile, in 1981, the Tour de France was revived by the Automobile-Club de Nice as a different kind of rally, based primarily on a series of races at circuits and hillclimbs around the country. It was successful for a while and continued until 1986. It spawned similar events in a few other countries, but none survive.
Rallying became very popular in Sweden and Finland in the 1950s, thanks in part to the invention there of the specialsträcka (Swedish) or erikoiskoe (Finnish), or special stage: shorter sections of route, usually on minor or private roads—predominantly gravel in these countries—away from habitation and traffic, which were separately timed. These at long last provided the solution to the conflict inherent in the notion of driving as fast as possible on ordinary roads. The idea spread to other countries, albeit more slowly to the most demanding events.
The RAC Rally had formally become an International event in 1951, but Britain's laws precluded the closure of public highways for special stages. This meant it had to rely on short manoeuvrability tests, regularity sections and night map-reading navigation to find a winner, which made it unattractive to foreign crews. In 1961, Jack Kemsley was able to persuade the Forestry Commission to open their many hundreds of miles of well surfaced and sinuous gravel roads, and the event was transformed into one of the most demanding and popular in the calendar, by 1983 having over 600 miles (970 km) of stage. It is now called Rally GB.
Rallying also took off in Spain and Portugal and by the 1960s had spread to their colonial territories in the mid-Atlantic. By the end of the 1960s events had not only begun in Madeira and the Canary Islands, but also on the far-flung Azores.
There has been a decline in the amount of unofficial off-roading events held across the globe since the post world war era. This was partly due to the extensive safety and mechanical checks and balances that need to be put in place in order to ensure that rally drivers and equipment are safe when rally racing. Hence the amount of FIA mandated rally events has increased and an increasing number of governments worldwide now require that all rally events and tracks are certified by the FIA or local motorsport regulatory organisations that follow the same rules and regulations, in order to ensure safety and well-being of all participants and attendees.
In countries where there was no shortage of demanding roads across remote terrain, other events sprang up. In South America, the biggest of these took the form of long distance city to city races, each around 5,000 to 6,000 miles (8,000 to 9,700 km), divided into daily legs. The first was the Gran Premio del Norte of 1940, run from Buenos Aires to Lima and back; it was won by Juan Manuel Fangio in a much modified Chevrolet coupé. This event was repeated in 1947, and in 1948 an even more ambitious one was held, the Gran Premio de la América del Sur from Buenos Aires to Caracas, Venezuela—Fangio had an accident in which his co-driver was killed. Then in 1950 came the fast and dangerous Carrera Panamericana, a 1,911-mile (3,075 km) road race in stages across Mexico to celebrate the opening of the asphalt highway between the Guatemala and United States borders, which ran until 1954. All these events fell victim to the cost – financial, social and environmental – of putting them on in an increasingly complex and developed world, although smaller road races continued long after, and a few still do in countries like Bolivia.
In Africa, 1950 saw the first French-run Méditerranée-le Cap, a 10,000-mile (16,000 km) rally from the Mediterranean to South Africa; it was run on and off until 1961, when the new political situation hastened its demise. In 1953 East Africa saw the demanding Coronation Safari, which went on to become the Safari Rally and a World Championship round, to be followed in due course by the Rallye du Maroc and the Rallye Côte d'Ivoire. Australia's Redex Round Australia Trial also dates from 1953, although this remained isolated from the rest of the rallying world.
The quest for longer and tougher events saw the re-establishment of the intercontinental rallies beginning with the London–Sydney Marathon held in 1968. The rally trekked across Europe, the Middle-East and the sub-continent before boarding a ship in Bombay to arrive in Fremantle eight days later before the final push across Australia to Sydney. The huge success of this event saw the creation of the World Cup Rallies, linked to Association Football's FIFA World Cup. The first was the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally which saw competitors travel from London eastwards across to Bulgaria before turning westwards on a more southerly route before boarding a ship in Lisbon. Disembarking in Rio de Janeiro the route travelled southward into Argentina before turning northwards along the western coast of South America before arriving in Mexico City.
The 1974 London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally followed four years later. The rally travelled southwards into Africa but a navigational error saw most of the rally become lost in Algerian desert. Eventually only seven teams reached the southernmost point of the rally in Nigeria with five teams making it back to West Germany having driven all legs and only the winning team completing the full distance. This, coupled with the economic climate of the 1970s the heat went out of intercontinental rallying after a second London–Sydney Marathon in 1977. The concept was revived in 1979 for the inaugural Paris-Dakar Rally. The success of the Dakar would eventually see intercontinental rallying recognised as its own discipline; the Rally Raid.
The introduction of the special stage effectively brought rallying into its modern form. Since then, the nature of the events has evolved relatively slowly though over time, rallies have tended to become shorter in distance, but also allowing for more events to be organised. Some of the older international events have gone, replaced by others from a much wider spread of countries around the world and many more local events.
The World Rally Championship was inaugurated in 1973, at first only for manufacturers but later including championship titles for drivers and co-drivers. Popular international rallies were included in the championship and professional drivers have been employed alongside amateur entrants for the entirety of its existence. In the 21st century the events began to take a common 'clover-leaf' format instead of the touring A-B format. A central service park would provide the base for all the teams and officials, including all overnight halts, with the special stages within reach of the service park.
Gruelling long-distance events continued to be run. In 1967, a group of American off-roaders created the Mexican 1000 Rally, a tough 1,000-mile race for cars and motorcycles which ran the length of the Baja California peninsula, much of it initially over roadless desert, which quickly gained fame as the Baja 1000, today run by the SCORE organization. "Baja" events, relatively short cross-country rallies, now take place in a number of other countries worldwide.
1968 brought the first of a series of British-organised intercontinental rallies, the Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon, which attracted over 100 crews including a number of works teams and top drivers; it was won by the Hillman Hunter of Andrew Cowan/Brian Coyle/Colin Malkin. Not to be outdone, the rival Daily Mirror sponsored in 1970 the London-Mexico World Cup Rally, linking the stadia of two successive football World Cups, on a route that crossed Europe to Bulgaria and back before shipping out from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, after looping around South America, and a run through some of the most frightening sections of Peru's road race, the Caminos del Inca, they wrap it up being shipped to Panama and a final run up Central America. The Ford Escort of Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm won. These were followed in 1974 by the London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally, and in 1977 by the Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Rally.
In 1979, a young Frenchman, Thierry Sabine, founded an institution when he organised the first "rallye-raid" from Paris to Dakar, in Senegal, the event now called the Dakar Rally. From amateur beginnings it quickly became a massive commercial circus catering for cars, motorcycles and trucks, and spawned other similar events. From 2008 to 2019, it was held in South America before moving to Saudi Arabia exclusively in 2020.
The main change over that period has been in the cars, and in the professionalisation and commercialisation of the sport. Manufacturers had entered works cars in rallies, and in their forerunner and cousin events, from the very beginning: the 1894 Paris-Rouen was mainly a competition between them, while the Thousand Mile Trial of 1900 had more trade than private entries.
Although there had been exceptions like the outlandish Ford V8 specials created by the Romanians for the 1936 Monte Carlo Rally, rallies before World War II had tended to be for standard or near-standard production cars, a rule supported by manufacturers because it created a relatively even playing field. After the war, most competing cars were production saloons or sports cars, with only minor modifications to improve performance, handling, braking and suspension. This kept costs down and allowed many more people to afford the sport using ordinary family cars, so entry lists grew into the hundreds.
As public interest grew, car companies started to introduce special models or variants for rallying, such as the British Motor Corporation's highly successful Mini Cooper, introduced in 1962, and its successor the Mini Cooper S (1963), developed by the Cooper Car Company. Shortly after, Ford of Britain first hired Lotus to create a high-performance version of their Cortina family car, then in 1968 launched the Escort Twin Cam, one of the most successful rally cars of its era. Similarly, Abarth developed high performance versions of Fiats 124 roadster and 131 saloon.
Other manufacturers were not content with modifying their 'bread-and-butter' cars. Renault bankrolled the small volume sports-car maker Alpine to transform their little A110 Berlinette coupé into a world-beating rally car, and hired a skilled team of drivers too; then in 1974 came the Lancia Stratos, the first car designed from scratch to win rallies, and the dominant asphalt rally car of its time. These makers overcame the rules of FISA (as the FIA was called at the time) by building the requisite number of these models for the road.
In 1980, a German car maker, Audi, at that time not noted for their interest in rallying, introduced a rather large and heavy coupé version of their family saloon, installed a turbocharged 2.1 litre five-cylinder engine, and fitted it with four-wheel drive. Thus the Audi Quattro was born. International regulations had prohibited four-wheel drive; but FISA accepted that this was a genuine production car, and changed the rules. The Quattro quickly became the car to beat on snow, ice or gravel; and in 1983 took Hannu Mikkola to the World Rally Championship title. Other manufacturers had no production four-wheel drive car on which to base their response, so FISA was persuaded to change the rules, and open the Championship to cars in Group B. This allowed cars to be much further removed from production models, and so was created a generation of rallying supercars, of which the most radical and impressive were the Peugeot 205 T16, Renault 5 Turbo and the Lancia Delta S4, with flimsy fibreglass bodies roughly the shape of the standard car tacked onto lightweight spaceframe chassis, four-wheel drive, and power outputs reportedly as high as 600 hp (450 kW). Further Group B cars were developed by Ford (the RS200), British Leyland (the Metro 6R4) and many others, but these were less successful.
This particular era was not to last. On the 1986 Rallye de Portugal, four spectators were killed; then in May, on the Tour de Corse, Henri Toivonen went over the edge of a mountain road and was incinerated in the fireball that followed. FISA immediately changed the rules again: rallying after 1987 would be in Group A cars, closer to the production model. One notably successful car during this period was the Lancia Delta Integrale, dominating world rallying during 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 – winning six consecutive world rally championships, a feat yet unbeaten.
Most of the works drivers of the 1950s were amateurs, paid little or nothing, reimbursed their expenses and given bonuses for winning (although there were certainly exceptions, such as the Grand Prix drivers who were brought in for some events). Then in 1960 came arguably the first rallying superstar (and one of the first to be paid to rally full-time), Sweden's Erik Carlsson, driving for Saab.
In the 1960s, the competitions manager of BMC, Stuart Turner, hired a series of brave and gifted young Finns, skills honed on their country's highly competitive gravel or snow rallies, and the modern professional driver was born. As special stage rallying spread around the world Scandinavian drivers were challenged by drivers from Italy, Germany, Britain, Spain and elsewhere.
Rallying is also unique in its choice of where and when to race. Rallies take place on all surfaces and in all conditions: asphalt (tarmac), gravel, or snow and ice, sometimes more than one in a single rally, depending on the course and event. Rallies are also run every month of the year, in every climate from bitter cold to monsoonal rain. As a result of the drivers not knowing exactly what lies ahead, (although some times the driver or their teams are offered an opportunity to "recce" or reconnaissance the course) the lower traction available on dirt roads, and the driving characteristics of small cars, the drivers are much less visibly smooth than circuit racers, regularly sending the car flying over bumps and sliding out of corners.
A typical rally course consists of a sequence of relatively short (up to about 50 km (31 mi)), timed "special stages" where the actual competition takes place, and "transport stages" where the rally cars must be driven under their own power to the next competitive stage within a specific time limit in which penalties are applied for being completed either too fast as well as too slowly. 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. Some events contain "super special stages" where two competing cars set off on two parallel tracks (often small enough to fit in a football stadium), giving the illusion they are circuit racing head to head. Run over a day, a weekend, or more, the winner of the event has the lowest combined special and super special stage times. Given the short distances of super special stages compared to the regular special stages and consequent near-identical times for the frontrunning cars, it is very rare for these spectator-oriented stages to decide rally results, though it is a well-known axiom that a team cannot win the rally at the super special, but they can certainly lose it.
Pacenotes are a unique and major tool in modern rallying. Television spectators will occasionally notice the voice of a co-driver in mid-race reading the pacenotes over the car's internal intercom. These pacenotes provide a detailed description of the course and allow the driver to predict conditions ahead and prepare for various course conditions such as turns and jumps.
In many rallies, including those of the World Rally Championship (WRC), drivers are allowed to run on the stages of the course before competition and create their own pacenotes. This process is called reconnaissance or recce. During reconnaissance, the co-driver writes down shorthand notes (the pacenotes) on how to best drive the stage. Usually the drivers call out the turns and road conditions for the co-drivers to write down. These pacenotes are read aloud through an internal intercom system during the actual race, allowing the driver to anticipate the upcoming terrain and thus take the course as fast as possible.
Other rallies provide organizer-created "route notes" also referred to as "stage notes" and disallow reconnaissance and use of other pacenotes. These notes are usually created using a predetermined pacenote format, from which a co-driver can optionally add comments or transpose into other pacenote notations. Many North American rallies do not conduct reconnaissance but provide stage notes through the use of the Jemba Inertia Notes System, due to time and budget constraints.
In the past, most rally courses were not allowed to be scanned prior to the race, and the co-drivers used only maps supplied by the organization. The exact route of the rally often remained secret until race day. Modern rallies have mostly converted to using organizer-supplied notes or allowing full reconnaissance, as opposed to racing the stages blindly. This change has been brought on in large part due to competitor demand.
In the wake of the ever more advanced rally cars of the 21st century is a trend towards historic rallying (also known as classic rallying), in which older cars compete under older rules. This is a popular sport and even attracts some previous drivers back into the sport. Some drivers started their competition careers in historic rallying.
In February 2015, The National Film & Television School in England premiered one of their graduating films called Group B directed by ex-rally driver Nick Rowland. The film, set during the last year of the Group B class of rally tells the story of a young driver having to face a difficult comeback after a "long and troubled absence". The young driver is played by Scottish actor Richard Madden, and his co-driver played by Northern Irish actor Michael Smiley.
A documentary revolving around the life and career of World Rally Championship driver Ott Tänak entitled Ott Tänak: The Movie was released in Estonian cinemas on April 11, 2019, and on video-on-demand on October 1, 2019. The documentary consisted of interviews with Tänak, his family, friends and colleagues within the sport interspersed with filmed and archive footage of Tänak's previous rallies along with behind-the-scenes footage from the 2018 WRC season viewed from the Estonian driver's perspective.
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