You’ve just completed your first rally race, hopefully mostly in one piece! Now you’ve decided it’s time to make your car faster. Where do you start?
Well, if you are considered a novice by the American Rally Association – meaning you’ve completed four or fewer events – then you can’t simply strap on a big turbo and call it a day. Your car’s power level will be restritced until you complete more events and gain more experience.
Here’s a few tips for more speed without directly boosting the power:
The best mod is a driver mod
Horsepower can’t fix poor driving habits. Vast amounts of YouTube fail videos highlight this. It’s important to realize that habits built up from everyday driving, circuit track racing, and other motorsports are usually at odds with what is successful in rallying.
For example, at our school I’ve worked with hundreds of students who are successful in their circuit racing, yet they initially struggle in a rallying scenario. They certainly don’t lack skill or talent, it’s just that their built-up instincts work against them for maximizing speed in a rally car.
Investing in professional coaching is one of the best ways to make your rally car faster. It will provide the opportunity to learn new habits and techniques leading to more confidence and faster driving out on stage. At the very least, it will reaffirm that what you were already doing is correct – and extra seat time never hurts.
Four points of contact
Rally drivers experience a myriad of road conditions. Imagine the differences between the sandy and silty conditions of the Ojibwe Forests Rally in Minnesota versus the rocky and wet conditions of the Olympus Rally in Washington. Heck, the infamous Monte Carlo Rally consistently throws asphalt, gravel, and snow at you all in one stage!
Rally tires typically come in hard, medium, and soft compounds. Hard compounds are generally good for higher temperature events and hard rocky conditions, while softs are good for cooler temperatures and wet conditions.
Soft compounds usually provide the best grip all-round but also have the shortest life span. Your car can only go as fast as the traction from the tires allows. You’ll need to balance between tire compound, wear rate, road conditions, and stage lengths.
Slow down to go fast
Upgrade your brakes if you already haven’t. It’s better to go too slow into a corner than fast into a tree.
Upgraded brakes won’t overheat as quickly and will withstand the abrasive rally conditions better, increasing overall grip and stability in the car. You’ll be able to brake later and corner better knowing your brakes are more effective and consistent.
Line up the rebound
Road conditions throw the car around aggressively. If you’re fighting to keep a bouncing car stable, your suspension may not be up to the task. Upgrade to something more customizable and stronger.
Being able to dial in how the car’s suspension compresses and rebounds on the surface will greatly improve stability, cornering, and your confidence in the car. Suspension should be adjusted to each event’s particular surface conditions.
Don’t forget about a proper alignment. Just like suspension, this can be adjusted for particular situations. For example, say you need to tame an oversteering car, a bit of toe-in on the rear tires can help that. If your car is struggling to turn into hairpins, consider a little bit of toe-out on the front tires to help that.
Your tires can only grip their best if they are kept on the ground and aimed properly with good suspension and alignment settings. Testing prior to the race is a crucial step in finding the optimal settings.
Go on a diet
Rally car classifications come with a minimum weight requirement. If your car is heavier than that, get it as close as possible without making the car unsafe.
Consider swapping out heavy body panels for lighter ones. This includes the windows. Polycarbonate windows are a popular weight reduction option. Lighter wheels can help reduce unsprung weight. Swap out heavy mechanical or electrical components for lighter options. And very politely, if the driver or co-driver is carrying a few extra pounds themselves, that may be worth considering losing as well.
The less weight your car has to move around, the more agile it can be, the later it can brake, and the faster it can accelerate.
Finding more speed in rallying should be thought of as a cohesive package.
Upgrading one thing without considering how it mixes with the rest of the car can limit your success.
All the individual components – driver habits, tires, brakes, suspension, powertrain, etc – need to be in sync to maximize speed in the fantastically dynamic conditions of rallying.