How Rally Racing Works

the WRC logo

If you want to know how rally racing works then you have to start with the World Rally Championship. The WRC as it’s called is the F1 of rally racing. The top level that is governed by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and sets the precedence that really trickles down to rally racing at lower levels. If you’ve never watched rally racing and are wondering what the big deal is, check out this clip of some highlights. Rally racing is a different type of racing that really takes a whole new level of skill. There are many F1 drivers that have participated in WRC and vice versa. These are some of the best drivers in the world driving on some of the most challenging roads in the world.

Championships and Scoring

a rally Ford Fiesta
a Ford Fiesta at the Rallye Deutschland 2014 – photo by Stefan Brending (2eight)

The scoring system is similar to that of F1 in that the last points earning position is 10th and the points are distributed up to a maximum of 25 for 1st place. Points are earned at the end of the rally and first place is determined by the driver with the quickest time over the entire rally (more on this later). Like F1, there is both a drivers and constructors championship and constructors can only have two drivers each. Right now there are four manufacturers and 14 rallies. If you have a bunch of money and you want to start your own team, look for someone named Sébastien. A driver with that first name has won a staggering 15 drivers championships in a row going back to 2004.

Stages and Racing

an airborne Citroen rally car
A Citroen catching air at Rally Australia – photo by teghkalsi

Now that you know how the championship works, let’s get down to the racing. Rallies typically occur over 3 days but some like the Monaco Rally can be longer. Each rally consists of a number of stages ranging from less than 2km to over 50km. Drivers may drive over 250 miles per day. Rally racing is unique in that drivers are not side by side but released in 2-3 minute intervals depending on the weather. Also, if you didn’t know, these rallies occur over all types of terrain including dirt, mud, snow, rain, concrete, whatever. Each stage is timed and drivers can win stages but lose the overall rally if their overall time is not the fastest.

Between stages, racers drive their cars on public roads to the next stage. These are not timed although if there were it would be hilarious. At the end of each day the team gets a 45 minute repair time and the cars are locked up and they aren’t allowed to touch them. Now something that’s truly unique, the crew (each car has a driver and navigator) can repair their vehicle at any time during the stage using just the tools they have on hand. This means that if you crash and you can get the car back up and running you can continue. Any missed stage usually results in a 7 minute penalty.

Rally Cars

a red Renault Turbo 5 rally car
A Renault 5 Turbo rally car – photo by Alberto-g-rovi

WRC has had some of the coolest cars of all-time. From the Lancia Stratos to the Subaru Impreza and the current Ford Fiesta (I have one!), rally cars usually develop a following. The current regulations call for a turbocharged 1.6L and all-wheel drive with a power limit of 380hp. The cars also have to be homologated production-based cars. This means that the public can go out and buy the same car sorta. This is the best part about rally racing for me. Being able to see a Nissan Versa soaring through the air then doing the same thing in my rental Versa is a kick! (Just kidding Hertz!) If more manufacturers would participate in rally racing we would have some killer cars. It’s too bad that it’s not really on TV in the states.

Who and What to Watch

The reigning champion Sébastien Ogier in France 2008
The reigning champion Sébastien Ogier in France 2008

The drivers championship is currently led by a non-Sébastien but there is one in P3. I wouldn’t bet against a Sébastien. We will do a whole article on the best rally drivers of all-time in future articles. Sébastien Ogier has won the past six drivers championships and is the favorite to win again this year. The other Sébastien (Loeb) is back in 11th place but he does have 9 championships. If you choose just one race to check out this year I would pick the Wales Rally. Besides Monaco, the Wales Rally is probably the most high-profile race of the season. It is 3-6 October this year so if you live in the States and you have the dough, pick up WRC+ and watch the broadcast.

Hopefully this gives you a good understanding of how rally racing works. I used to watch it all the time when it was back on the Speed Channel but I have admittedly not watched it as much as I should. I would recommend following the WRC Facebook page and social media accounts. They usually have some pretty good highlights there. Maybe it will inspire you to put some mud flaps on your Fiesta like I did! That’s a quick look at how rally racing works. We’ll do a deeper look at the history later including an article on some of the best rally cars of all-time. Stay tuned!

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