With a class win in the Daytona 24 Hours, an Asian Le Mans Series crown and multiple NASCAR starts under his belt, 2021 has been quite the year already for Kyle Tilley.
But while he has made a great career out of circuit racing, this weekend Tilley will finally get to indulge in a real passion of his – rallying.
“Obviously the sportscar side of things, that’s work. The rally side of stuff has always been more of passion,” Tilley told DirtFish. “If anybody asked me who my driving hero is, I don’t really have anyone apart from Colin McRae.
“Rallying has always been top of my list in terms of interest. I’ve been most excited about this, but because of my background and my career and how it all played out, it just is not something I’ve ever pursued.”
So while Tilley has time off from his packed racing schedule – “the first weekend that I’ve had free,” – he and his IMSA engineer Tim Whitteridge are taking on the Ojibwe Forests Rally in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship.
In having a familiar face beside him, Tilley has something of a headstart when it comes to developing that driver/co-driver relationship that’s oh so crucial in rallying – even if it’s Whitteridge’s first time on the stages too.
“We spent a lot of time together, and I trust him, he trusts me I think, so I think we’ll be alright,” Tilley said.
“I wouldn’t want to do it with a co-driver I didn’t know, whether they were experienced or not experienced. For me, that relationship in the car is pretty valuable to me.”
Different or not though, running with a constant voice beside him won’t be entirely alien to Tilley with his sportscar experience and his four recent starts on road courses across NASCAR’s top two divisions providing something of a comparable experience.
He also spent some time at DirtFish to really nail down the necessary elements of rally communication “so it won’t be the first time I’ve had notes, but at the same time, it’ll be the first time in a competition sense”.
“It’s going to be different, but the same in some ways,” he explained. “We have the in-car radio in the prototype and we get information relayed backwards and forwards to us each lap on that – obviously not as critical and not as constant, but it’s still information that you have to process.
I desperately wanted to run it, but unfortunately they said noKyle Tilley on the car he wanted to rally
“There’s constantly somebody talking to you in NASCAR, which has taken some getting used to because I’m used to not really having a spotter,” he added. “We use that one spotter at Daytona, but yeah, [we] don’t really use spotters that much [in sportscars].”
What will definitely be new for Tilley though is the car he’s driving: a 2005 Mitubishi Lancer Evo. Left with 10 days to source a car for the event, at the time of our conversation, Tilley’s yet to drive it in anger; although he does insist that “it’s going to be easier to drive than a NASCAR car”.
But what was his original chariot of choice? Well, get ready to feel very disappointed because were it not for a hiccup when it came to regulatory approval, we could have seen a legendary MG Metro 6R4 competing on North American stages.
“I remember going to the Wyedean Forest Rally back home, I wasn’t very old, maybe like 10 or 12, and there was a couple of 6R4s,” Tilley says of his love of the Group B icon.
“I just remember it was the sound more than anything else, it was just so different to anything else.
“It always just fascinated me and this one came up for sale. It wasn’t cheap, because none of them are cheap, but it was cost-effective for a 6R4.
“So I went ahead and sold near-enough everything I had to buy it and I desperately wanted to run it, but unfortunately they said no.”
Alas, an Evo it will be, but that won’t necessarily be a bad thing for Tilley’s maiden outing – and any potential repair bills will at least be easier on the wallet.
Nevertheless, with circuit racing ‘work’ off the menu for the weekend, there’s just one thing on Tilley’s mind.
“I’m just going to go and have fun, honestly. But as I said, it’s always been something that’s excited me, so I’m looking forward to it and it’s been something I’ve been planning to do for a while.
“Don’t get me wrong, It’s going to be a baptism of fire,” he added. “There’s no two ways about that. But I’m looking forward to that. It’s just going to be nice to go and do an event and have fun without the pressure.”