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An introduction to the world of rally car racing

S Muralidhar | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on November 26, 2015

Racing at its purest A rally car crosses a viaduct during the Rally De Espana in Catalunya, Spain.- S MURALIDHAR

Spectators lounging track side during the rally - S MURALIDHAR

A GraphicNews map of the rally stages

Beyond the console game is a real sport that is as thrilling as it is challenging



Motorsports and racing has been alive and thriving in India for many decades, though it hasn’t been much of a spectator sport – in fact, it still isn’t. There are thousands of Formula One and Moto GP fans here, but most of us seem to be content watching all the action on our TV screens.

There was a bit of excitement when Formula One first came to the country at the Buddh International Circuit. But, after the first edition of the Indian GP, interest waned as was evident from the fall in grandstand ticket sales. Of course, the Indian GP hasn’t been on the F1 calendar for the last two years and one still hopes it will make it back here soon.

History of motorsport

But, for decades motorsport in India has been dominated by rallying much more than track racing. There are a number of rallies that are conducted annually, with the most popular and well-known being the Raid De Himalaya. Though there are fewer fans in India, globally the biggest rallying event every year is the World Rally Championship (WRC). There are probably more Indian fans for the video game franchises of the WRC, than for the real-life sport.

The Championship is conducted annually and is spread across many countries and runs over varied terrain, though India is obviously not in the WRC map currently. For most of us fed on a weekly diet of F1, the WRC may be a bit of an unfamiliar sport. Here is a sneak peek into the world of rallying, fresh after witnessing a few stages of this year’s edition at the Rally de Espana.

About the Championship

The WRC is organised by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), which is the same governing body that also organises the F1 championship. The first WRC edition was held in 1973. The annual rally is contested for two positions - the championship driver and manufacturer, much like in F1 where there are driver's and constructor's titles to be won.

But, unlike F1, which is conducted on specially constructed tracks around the world, the WRC is conducted on multiple surfaces and terrains, including sections of closed public roads, snow, ice and off-road sections. In fact, WRC is a collection of very famous international rallies that were initially part of the European Rally Championship and the International Championship for Manufacturers. The charm of WRC lies in this collection of rallies that really test the endurance of man and machine.

Naturally, the variables involved in WRC are far many more than in F1, or for that matter any other racing series. It is not just the weather and track temperature that matter, but also the type of terrain and the uncertainties involved in driving at extremely high speeds on regular public roads which were not built to accommodate that kind of pace.

Unlike track racing, the ambient conditions, especially in off-roads sections of the WRC, can be quite challenging and damaging for both the car and the drivers.

Further, track racing has a lot of safety precautions built-in, but in rallying there are no tarmac run-offs or other safety infrastructure in place, So mistakes can mean not just being out of the race, but also serious injury or death. Imagine, loosing control and driving off the edge of a hill road section and ending up at the bottom of the ravine. And mind you the speeds are not much slower in rallying compared to F1.

Though there is the team radio and similar support services involved in WRC, the other unique difference in this form of motorsport is the involvement of the co-driver. Directions, instructions and warnings are fed by the co-driver and there is even a special lingo that is shared between the driver and co-driver.

Bring out the chairs

The WRC is also a more unique spectator sport because it involves and engages the local population of the towns and countries where the rally series are hosted. There can be total of about 12-15 rallies each of them spread over three days – Friday and the weekend.

Each of these rallies typically consists of 15-25 stages and distances can vary though average daily distances could be about 400 kilometres. Again the unique feature of rallies in general and the WRC in particular is that while rally rules apply in the closed roads section, the normal road rules and regulations apply when the same cars are being driven on the open sections of these public roads. So, many rally drivers have been issued speeding tickets by the local police, when they were headed from one stage to another.

The World Rally cars are put together by the participating manufacturers. And just like in F1, the governing body for WRC too lays the rules regarding what is allowed and not permissible in the world rally car, which is usually a supremely souped-up, race-ready version of a production car.

The current car can have four-cylinder, 1.6-litre turbocharged engines, four-wheel drive and six-speed sequential gearbox, with a lot of other restrictions on the engine output and to the use of specific materials in the construction of the car.

The winning driver and manufacturer are decided based on the same point system, though the two championship awards are independent. So, the manufacturer who sponsored the winning driver may not be the winner of the manufacturer championship.

The 2015 WRC season just got over earlier this month with the last rally being the Wales Rally GB.

The driver with the highest points tally for the year is Sebastien Ogier and the manufacturer at the top of the heap is Volkswagen Motorsport, with Citroen and Hyundai neck-to-neck at the number two and three spots. Hyundai is the youngest manufacturer in the World Rally Championship. It has only participated in the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the i20 WRC car. Hyundai Motorsport has already had quite a few podium finishes during the two seasons.

Published on November 26, 2015
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