The article below, originally published in the Mini Cooper Register monthly magazine (November and December 2008 editions) and reproduced here with kind permission of its authors, provides a wealth of invaluable advice on how to road rally in the Mini Cooper and Mini.
A helpful article for beginners in the sport by Peter Barker, with input from Willy Cave and pictures supplied by Robert Young.
The authors have experience of road rallies in classic Mini Coopers going back over four decades. Here are a collection of observations on the sport that we hope are of help to MCR members wanting to make a start in road rallying.
The historical perspective
In the beginning, back when the motor car was young, all rallies were road rallies. From the humblest treasure hunt to the Monte Carlo Rally all rallies were held on public roads open to other traffic. The idea of special stages held on closed private roads was not enacted until 1960 by Jack Kemsley, organiser of the classic RAC Rallies of the 50s and 60s.
Road Rallying reached its peak in the UK with the Motoring News Championship, started by Stuart Turner. The rounds of this famous series, held between the early 60s and mid 80s, were mostly night road rallies and as time went by they developed into flat out road races with a high average speed and competitive sections timed to the second. This was horribly antisocial and eventually caused the death of serious road rallying, but the spirit of the Motoring News Championship can still occasionally be felt in some of the night road rallies promoted today.
The sport of stage rallying has now developed to the point where the World Rally Championship has multi million pound budgets, TV based scheduling and superstar status for the drivers of the very special cars that are needed to be competitive. By contrast traditional road rallies and the newer endurance rallies are very much amateur affairs today, but they do offer cheap motorsport in cars that are pretty much standard and the Mini Cooper is still competitive in the historic classes.
This article is intended to help people wanting to compete in their first, or nearly their first, road rally and who don't really have much of a clue what to do!
Before the Start
Any rally of any size run in the UK will have some common features in their organisation and paperwork. From a competitor's point of view your first contact with the rally (and actually the point at which the rally starts for driver and navigator) will be the point at which you receive the Supplementary Regulations or 'Regs'. These regs, which can be anything from one sheet of paper to a smartly bound small book, are the framework within which the rally will be run. The regs will refer to the MSA Yearbook ('the Blue Book') which lists the General Regulations under which all rallies must be run in the UK. Any relevant regulations from the Blue Book will usually be repeated in the regs for your rally, but this is not always the case especially the larger events where competitors are assumed to have some knowledge of what they are doing!
When you get the regs you must do two things.
1. READ, MARK, LEARN and INWARDLY DIGEST them
2. KEEP THEM SOMEWHERE SAFE
These regs will undoubtedly be needed again, probably at a control in the middle of nowhere in the pitch dark. Alternatively when you are shouting red faced at the Clerk of the Course in the pub at the end of the rally because he has added a further 30 mins of penalties for leaving a control in the wrong direction, to the eight hours that you already have, it will not be much consolation to be told that 'it was in the regs'! Please do these two important things, your rally will go much better as a result.
Organisers spend a lot of time writing their regs and a good number of clues as to what type of event you are about to enter will be contained in them. There isn't room here to go into every detail but look at the schedule of penalties, the distance the event covers, the road surfaces mentioned, the number of maps required and the details of timing. All of these will tell you about the character of the event.
Assuming you like the look of the event you must send in your entry. Fill in the entry form, write down your MCR membership number (if it is an MCR event) or if you hold a Competition Licence (see below) enter those details on the entry form, and find your chequebook. For a twelve car rally, as all MCR events have been up to now, this must be done SOON for the obvious reason - there are only twelve places available. If you dither you may be disappointed. If your cheque doesn't bounce and the rally isn't full then you will probably receive a reply from the organisers telling you that you have a place. Traditionally all paperwork is sent to the navigator as he or she is assumed to be literate, not always the case with drivers (see Route Check Boards below).
On the day of the rally set off in plenty of time, a day off work is probably the best idea if it's a weekday, get to the start early and assuming you have done your homework you can look around smugly at the sweating anxious novices who haven't done theirs.
At the Start
Once actually at the start venue you will have certain formalities to complete. Firstly, scrutineering. This will vary from a quick glance at the MOT certificate to a full blown examination of the car on a ramp. The object is to ensure that your car is safe and legal. If your car has passed a recent MOT you should have nothing to fear. Your car may additionally have to pass a Noise Test as night road rallies are the most anti social form of motorsport, and the most frequent cause of public complaint is noise. The current limit for Road Rally cars is 98db(A) at 0.5m from the tail pipe. This requires some thought for Mini owners as it is easy to exceed this with a tuned engine. Cars over the limit may be refused a start and your entry fee is unlikely to be refunded. Limits will only come down in future and straight cut transmission is a particular source of noise from Mini Coopers. The traditional remedy for a noisy exhaust is to stuff a Brillo pad up the tail pipe, although this will send burning wire wool and smoke back down the road for the first few miles!
There are very few regulations for Road Rally cars other than to be road legal. Those that do exist include a prohibition on advertising on the car, a maximum limit of four forward facing lights (ie no more than two extra lights on a Mini), and the mandatory removal of all wheeltrims. It is a sensible precaution to fix the front seats of Mk1 Minis in place as the seat may try to tip in a crash if left free, possibly helping to overload your seatbelts.
Signing On will consist of a few essential formalities. You will have to sign an Insurance Declaration and/or show your Letter of Acceptance or Certificate of Insurance to reassure the Clerk of the Course that you are legal to drive. This insurance will NOT be the same as your normal road policy; almost all road policies specifically exclude rallying. You may have to complete a proposal in advance or sign a declaration on the night. You will then be covered for THIRD PARTY CLAIMS ONLY. If you crash your car on a rally it will be entirely up to you to fix it. The premium for this insurance may be included in your entry fee.
Your Time Card, which you will receive at signing-on, is worth its weight in gold. You will certainly be excluded form the results without it, so protect yours with your life! Larger events may have marshal's check sheets for each control which give a separate record of all the times at that control plus any penalties for wrong direction of approach etc. These will be used to clarify any doubt arising from an unreadable or suspicious Time Card. Falsifying an entry on a Time Card usually means exclusion so watch it!
There may be a Driver's Briefing before the start at which the Clerk of the Course will warn you once again about safety issues, threaten you with the local Constabulary, frighten you with hints at the immense depth of every ford on the route and then warmly wish you a good evening! You can be sure he or she will spend the night in a warm and dry 4x4 with the best looking marshal for company, but that is his or her prerogative, so tough luck!
On the rally
Road Rallying is all about driving a set route to a set time schedule. If you can achieve that schedule and find the correct route you will win the rally. This is usually impossible, so the nearest crew to that ideal will be declared the winners. You the crew therefore have only two things to worry about:
1. Finding the correct route on time.
2. Driving it on time.
The navigator should worry about the first one and the driver should worry about the second. Only one thing to think about each, this doesn't sound so bad does it?
As you pull away from the Start, (often called MTC1 or Main Time Control 1) you may be given a sheet of paper with some route instructions on. These may be completely fresh instructions which when decoded give you the correct route, or they may be the final part of a set of instructions given to you in advance. Either way they will give you enough information to get you to the first Time Control (TC) and possibly one or two controls beyond that. There is a separate section on Navigational Techniques later on in this article, but whatever the technique being used the navigator will need to work it out quickly and plot it onto his/her map swiftly in order for you to get away from MTC1 in the right direction.
The navigator only needs to be one junction ahead of the car in order to keep it going in the right direction, but most good navigators will plot as far ahead as possible whilst giving their drivers the minimum of information. This takes practice!
As well as getting the route right the navigator must keep Timing in mind. You will have been given a Time Card at signing on. This will give the scheduled time for a fictional car 0 at each Control on the rally and you will be able to calculate your own due time at a Control by adding your start time in minutes to the time given for that Control. For example if the scheduled time given for TC1 (Time Control 1) is 10.00 and you are in car 6 then you will be due at TC1 at 10.06. When you get to TC1 the marshal will record your time in hours and minutes (and very occasionally seconds) in the appropriate space on your Time Card and you can then motor on towards TC2. It is important for the navigator to calculate when you are due at a TC before you get to it otherwise you run the risk of blasting into the Control only to get a penalty for being early.
Once you have dropped time, ie you have been late at a control, you should not normally try to make it back. Take your previous lateness into account and try not to drop any more time. There will not normally be any further penalty if you are no later than you were at the previous control. If you are early at the next TC you may receive a penalty for being early, which is usually twice as harsh as being late. The exceptions to this general rule are
1. At a rest halt where the regulations state that lateness may be made up. So if you arrive late, your time at the rest halt will be shortened and you will leave at the correct time by the original schedule.
2. In the UK, between controls more than four miles apart where you can take three quarters of the target time or more without penalty AS LONG AS THE REGULATIONS DO NOT DISALLOW IT. This is known as the 'Three Quarter Rule'.
Finding the route (common Navigational Techniques)
Road rallies in the UK will be based on the Landranger series of 1:50,000 scale maps produced by the Ordnance Survey. These are freely available and as they are updated regularly they are mostly accurate. Old fashioned paper maps are still the accepted format. How the availability of these maps in digital form and the increased use of GPS systems will affect road rallying remains to be seen, but as of 2008 paper maps are still in use in rallying. The navigator in your team will need to be familiar with these maps and to know how to plot a map reference on them. The use of the National Grid is explained in the margin of Landranger maps. For greater accuracy and speed, the navigator may want to use a small plastic card called a 'Romer' which will point to a spot within 50 metres of the reference. Assuming he or she can do this then you can get started.
It is not possible to cover here all the forms in which navigational information might be presented to you here, but these are a few old favourites.
These may be given to you in four figure form (ie a grid square), six figure form (the usual method) or eight figure form (for extra accuracy). They may be complete, incomplete, in or out of order, mixed up with other numerical information (spot heights, road numbers, grid lines etc). Essentially they are all the same, the first group of figures gives you the Eastings (lateral coordinates) and the second group the Northings (vertical coordinates). For the Landranger series a map number or grid letters may precede the numbers to give you a unique reference. You must learn to plot them and read them quickly. Practice is essential.
Apparently originating from the Tulip Rally of yesteryear these are the standard way of giving road instructions in Stage Rallies and also appear in many road rallies. They are simple and easy to follow diagrams of junctions as long as you remember to go 'from the ball to the arrow' (from the bulb to the head of the tulip if you are a gardener.) They may be accompanied by other information (distances, directions) and again may or may not be in order and may be incomplete.
These are single capital letters that give you instructions as to which way to go, usually at junctions. L is left, R is right, U is up (a hill, or up the map) and D is the opposite. U can also be under (a bridge or powerlines) and O can be over similar features, although it doesn't usually apply to powerlines! They often appear in long strings and you must count each one carefully to find the correct route. Make sure your driver knows his left from his right, it has been known for drivers to actually have to write L and R on the back of their hands to make sure of this!
There are many minor variations on the theme of compass directions. So long as you know your east from your west (north and south never seem to be a problem) you will be OK. They are often given by capitals, N S E W and composites (NNE is north north east for example). They are commonly used to give the correct direction of approach to controls. Read them carefully as they may give clues as to road detail beyond the scope of the map (eg triangles at junctions).
You may be given bits of tracing paper with parts of the route marked on them. These should be laid over the map and the correct route copied. They are not too difficult to understand but again you may have to stop the car to plot them accurately.
Some rallies, including the London Rallies of old, give competitors a copy of an OS map with several controls marked on it. This is a way of saving competitors the additional cost of a map which the rally only visits in part, but it does have its own hazards. Be wary of differing scales of marked map and your maps, and also take care to check for overlap of different maps. Sometimes the marked maps are in colour sometimes not, but they are usually more difficult to navigate from than an original OS sheet. If you are well heeled it might pay to take all adjacent maps to the ones listed in the regulations as this will ensure you have all the possible information in a consistent fashion. If there is time you can transfer information from the marked map to your own maps for maximum clarity.
On a Regularity Stage the driver must maintain a set speed throughout. It follows that for every yard along the route there is a correct time in minutes and seconds elapsed from the start. A stopwatch is required and a set of speed tables showing the ideal time for every tenth of a mile. A trip meter must be zeroed at the start where the marshal will give a countdown. The navigator will then give a running commentary telling by how many seconds the driver is early or late. Somewhere along the route there will be a secret timing point where the car will be penalised according to its discrepancy from the officially calculated ideal time.
Variations on this include multiple timing points and changes to the set speed. The crew may have to start themselves at a set time, without benefit of a marshal.
It is essential that, however difficult the timekeeping may be, route navigation must be the priority. It is better to be on the right road at the wrong time than on the wrong road at the right time.
Having worked out the route and driven it on time you suddenly arrive at a control: what do you do? You should know when you are due at this control from your timecard (assuming that you aren't on a regularity section with secret controls) and so you will know whether you can go straight in or whether you should wait outside the control area for your due time. If any part of your car passes the control board you may be given a time whether you want it or not so make sure you are well clear of the board when waiting.
The usual rule with controls in the UK, is that you can enter the control area during the minute preceding the one you want, get your timecard signed and then wait for the minute to tick over. Once the clock indicates the minute you want you can leave the control with the maximum time in hand for the next section. This makes a lot of difference on a rally with short sections between controls. Of course if you are late into a control you just have to race in and get the earliest time you can. Do remember that once you have got your time you should not try to make up the time you have lost on the previous section unless one of the two conditions listed above apply (you're at a rest halt or the three-quarter rule can be used).
Route Check Boards
Unmanned passage controls may be sited around the route to ensure that you stay on the right course and do not take short cuts that may not have received Public Relations (PR) attention. It is the navigator's responsibility to tell drivers to look out for these boards on a section, there's usually a warning that they will be used, but it is definitely the driver's responsibility to look out for the boards and call out the numbers and/or letters written on them as soon as they are seen. The navigator should then write this information down on the timecard in spaces provided before reaching the next manned control, as it may be signed for there. The busy navigator should not be tempted to make a hasty note on the palm of his or her hand, for fear of forgetting to transfer it to the timecard. Drivers should note that bombing past a board and then saying 'oh, what was that?' half a mile later to your navigator will get you a clip round the head with a map board, and quite rightly!
Road rallies do not require special driving techniques as they take place on public roads open to other traffic. A course in Advanced Driving might be of benefit but most road rally drivers seem to learn by experience. The best road rally drivers seem to have the knack of driving quickly but smoothly, they keep the car flowing along rather than make frequent abrupt changes of speed and direction. To keep up an average speed of more than 30mph on poor roads means that you must keep motoring at all times, get past obstructions quickly and not collide with other vehicles or the scenery!
Keep the car in the highest gear you can safely, you will cover the ground faster than if you hang onto the lower gears all the time. Try to brake in a straight line unless you actually want the car to spin: it is worth perfecting your handbrake turns for hairpin bends and quick turnarounds when you have gone the wrong way! On muddy sections keep the car going at all costs, and use the highest gear you can with the lowest revs to avoid wheelspin. Take fords steadily: a constant slow speed is probably the best approach, flying into deep water and hoping for the best will probably mean a stalled engine and wet feet!
Remember other road users, you are not on a racetrack and other people will not have the same urgency as you. Please treat them with respect, after all they live locally and you probably do not.
You must come to a COMPLETE HALT at Give Way junctions. It is not enough to trickle across, the MSA insist that you actually STOP and Organisers can exclude you for just one offence. This is for your own safety and the safety of others so please remember this one.
Reliability before speed. Rallies have been won by the least powerful car because it was reliable and well driven. There is no point in having a car with 120bhp at the wheels if it expires at TC1.
Handling is one of the Mini's best features, make sure yours is at least up to perfect standard spec and improve on it if you wish. Uprated shockabsorbers and bigger bumpstops are a useful modification on both dry and wet Minis.
Braking is not always such a Mini strongpoint, so unless the regulations prohibit it uprated brakes are probably a good idea for the earlier models. If you can run 12" wheels then disc brakes are relatively plentiful from post 1984 cars. On earlier cars with 10" wheels you will either have to find a set of 7.5" discs or resort to uprated drum brakes. 7" discs are not really worth changing to: only use them if you are prepared to sacrifice safety for originality on an old Cooper model. Don't fit harder linings until you really need to, standard linings have a lot to recommend them as long as you can keep them well ventilated to avoid fade.
Electrical problems account for the huge majority of car breakdowns. If you fit electrical extras, use a completely separate loom with fuses and relays. That way if your home made wiring gives up the ghost you will still be left with the original lighting etc rather than no lights at all and possibly a fire. Purpose built rally cars have purpose built wiring looms, but you will probably be driving a modified standard car.
Tyres are very much a personal choice. Most of your road rallying will be on tarmac with the occasional excursion onto gravel or other surfaces. A general purpose steel braced radial is probably a good start. Specialist tyres tend to be very good on the surface they were designed for but very bad on others. Do make sure that your tyres are in good condition and that your spare is the same as the ones on the road. Tyres make an awful lot of difference to a Mini's handling and they will wear quicker than normal if used enthusiastically so keep an eye on them.
It goes without saying that your car should be in good mechanical condition. Perfect standard spec is a good place to start and then improve on that as and when you can afford to do so.
Engine specification is another personal matter but before you tune your motor remember that you want flexibility and torque as much as outright power for a rally car. A full race spec engine may mean a hopelessly intractable car that is actually slower than others with a lower power output. Look at the specification of other successful cars and consult a specialist if you can afford it. If in doubt leave it alone, you will not regret it!
The MSA insist that you fit air filters as it helps reduce induction noise. You should not be allowed to start any rally in the UK without them.
A sumpguard of some sort is essential on a serious road rally Mini. 10" wheels do not give you a lot of ground clearance, and your sump will be the first thing to hit the bumps in the middle of the road. A light alloy guard that covers the engine and gearbox is probably a good start. The old RAF sumpguard as fitted to Mokes is laughable but the original Scottish type of guard is needlessly strong and heavy for a road rally car. If you fit a sumpguard you must either also fit an oilcooler or change your oil frequently: the cowling effect of the guard tends to make a hard-pressed engine cook its lubricant with possibly expensive results.
Extra lighting is a matter of driver preference, but few Minis rally without something to assist those feeble Lucas Sealed Beams. Remember not to overload your alternator or dynamo. Calculate the total power requirement of your proposed lighting system before you fit it: will the generator be able to provide enough power to keep it and all the other electrical accessories going! If not uprate the generator before you fit excessively powerful lighting rigs.
A larger battery is a useful fitting for a rally car. Fit the largest battery you can find that will squeeze into a Mini battery box and make sure that it has the right terminals.
The navigator will certainly need a map light and possibly a map magnifier. The traditional type of map light on a flexible stalk is very good, but get a short one as it will stay in place better when the car is bumping around. Map magnifiers (or 'Pottis') can be bought from Don Barrow, Rally Navigation Services, Demon Tweeks or found second hand at autojumbles. They allow you to see vital detail on an OS map at a comfortable size and most have internal illumination. Make sure that the Potti power supply has a separate fuse from that which feeds the map light. It has been known for drivers to have to strip wires with their teeth in the seconds before a major control and wire the Potti to the battery cut-out switch in order to re-illuminate the navigator's maps at short notice! Make sure this doesn't happen to you. If you are a navigator who suffers from car sickness avoid the temptation to use your Potti as a handy sick receptacle, they're difficult to clean and you don't want to be looking at the magnified remains of your dinner all night. Use the door pockets like everyone else!
As you progress in your rallying career, and we hope that you will, you may want to start entering rallies open to more than one club. These will require competition licenses which can be bought from the RACMSA. A basic Clubman's driver or navigator licence for National B events will cost you approximately £30. As you progress you may wish to upgrade to a National A licence and then to an International Rally licence. The latter is not often called for but will allow you to enter any road rally worldwide. Unless you become involved in the World Rally Championship you need go no further with licences and their associated annual fees.
The best rally crews seem to have an undue amount of luck. Everyone has miraculous escapes now and then but to a certain extent you make your own luck. Keep going until the end of any rally if you can, you certainly won't win anything if you don't finish and you may be amazed to find that other crews have had an even worse time than you! Try to turn any situation to your advantage but DO NOT CHEAT. Rallymanship is a fine art and learnt entirely by experience, but remember you are playing a game and it is an accepted part of the game to exploit the rules to the full. You may hear the occasional muttering from your competitors but if your ruse works you can bet that they will try the same thing against you next time!
Having said all of that 'good luck', enjoy your rallying.
Copyright Peter Barker 2008.
'Rally Navigation' by Martin Holmes.
First published by Haynes in 1975 this book has been frequently updated. Try to get an early edition for the full road rally lowdown and for the wonderful vintage pictures of Motoring News stars in their youth!
'Rallying' by Stuart Turner.
A very old book (first published 1960) but full of timeless tips on navigation and rallymanship. As witty as any other Stuart Turner publication although a bit disorganised in places. It is such an entertaining read however that this doesn't matter. Get a copy if you can from second hand book shops and stalls.
Copyright © Northumberland Borders Rally