You’re doing it. You’re finally doing it. You’re going to take the plunge and enter a rally. Good for you.
Welcome to the next level of involvement in rallying.
There are, of course, two ways of landing a car to drive on your first rally: buy or hire. Let’s assume you’re going to hire – as we’ll deal with buying a rally car in the coming weeks. Make sure you can keep an eye on DirtFish for that!
Without sounding like a killjoy, the first thing to do here is to make sure you’re completely covered from an insurance perspective. I know you’re just days away from demonstrating that you are, without a doubt, the next Sébastien Ogier, but just in case something goes wrong, just in case a dog runs out into the road and, ahem, makes you crash…
Make sure you’ve got ample coverage. Rolling off the road is a pain, but the realization that you’ve just landed yourself with a sizey repair bill is even more sobering.
And the same goes for yourself as well – get yourself some insurance.
How to become a rally driver
Check out DirtFish's handy 'how to' series which will be updated each week with unmissable tips and tricks
You’re going to need a competition licence, which, depending on where you are in the world, could mean undertaking a competency test in a rally car or passing a medical exam. Passing these should bag you a competition licence and once you have that, you’re good to get out into the stages.
As a newcomer to actually competing, you’ll have to make a decision about your first event and therefore which surface: gravel or asphalt? Generally, you’ll find asphalt rallies are a bit cheaper to compete on (they don’t involve the organizers having to pay a repair bill to fix the forest road). But, if we’re completely honest (and if we’re not descendants of the Panizzi family…) then it’s the loose that we’re leaning towards.
We want to feel the car slide, right? Exactly.
So, which event?
The website for your governing body of motorsport is a good place to start, but the best place if you want genuine, real-world advice is your local car club. Again, depending on where you are in the world, these might be few and far between – even in the UK, the number of clubs meeting on a weekly basis is on the decline.
But, if you can find a good one, dive in and make some mates. These are the folk who will help you at this end of your career. They will have been through all the frustrations you might experience and they can provide sensible, straightforward advice.
Quick tip here, if you want to ingratiate yourself with your new club buddies and demonstrate your commitment to the cause, then get out there and help them marshal on a rally. This is a fantastic way to understand how a rally works and to see what proper unsung heroes the volunteer force is in motorsport.
That done, ask around for events. There will be plenty of advice.
Once you’ve targeted the rally where you want to make your debut, make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time. Preparation always, always takes longer than you thought it would. Ever if you’re hiring the car, do you have everything else ready? Gloves? HANS device?
Then fill out the entry form – and don’t hang about as these can fill up quickly! When I did it, everything was done by post – including a cheque for payment – but movement into the 21st century has taken this process online.
Got your co-driver? What’s their story? Going with a mate is great and it’ll definitely make the day go with a giggle, but if you’re serious about this, it’s worth leaning towards somebody with experience. Again, talking to people in your car club, there’s bound to be a suitable co-driver that can be suggested.
The temptation is to go with a mate and get them to pay the entry fee – you are, after all, covering the other costs. Up to you, but if possible, I’d go the extra mile, pay that bit more and get somebody alongside you who knows what they’re doing.
I’ve been there when a couple of novices rock up at the stage start with little or no clue about the technical side of competing on a rally. Would your mate know, for example, to sync his watch with rally time?
Equally, if you’re hiring a car, a degree of this would be taken care of by the supplier of the motor – including the supply of tires, fuel and any possible spares.
From the moment you enter the event, start to make a list of what you need. That list will grow and grow to include silly things like the charging cable for the GoPro, but if you forget it you’re not going to be making the most of the day.
When you start out at this end of your career, you are everything from co-ordinator to driver in Team You.
Good luck. Go and enjoy yourself.