The banshee wail of a high performance engine echoing through the streets of Corsica, mixed with the roar of the fanatical supporters, mere inches away from the metallic blue Subaru is a picture etched in many Rally drivers’ minds.
This classic portrait also leads to heated debates within the highly opinionated auto racing fraternity. The silent elephant in the room being: “Are rally drivers better than their asphalt brothers and sisters?” And while engrossed in this lengthy discourse, why not then debate at least five ways that these masters of the Swedish flick outshine even the glamorous open-wheeler asphalt classes, such as Formula One and CART racing.
The Race Of Champions Belongs To Rally Drivers.
Inaugurated in 1988 to posthumously honour one of the greatest Rally drivers of his time, Henri Toivonen, the ROC soon attracted the interest of auto racing drivers from other motorsport forms including, NASCAR and motorcycle racing.
Although the overt objective of the end of season international competition is to determine the quickest competitor, it really has turned into a competition to see which discipline produces the fastest driver.
Much to the chagrin of the glamorous exponents of the closed circuit championships, rally drivers hold a very healthy lead; having won 21 of the 26 events, with Didier Auriol having won an astounding 4 times!
This is no coincidence.
The Swedish Flick Wins Rallies When Corners Lie In Wait.
Unlike other race car drivers, who race on closed asphalt circuits where the surface remains reasonably constant during the course of a race, Rally Race Drivers are used to constantly changing conditions.
Even with the use of pace notes, read out by an alert and experienced navigator, the significant changes brought about by 20, or more, high powered vehicles scrabbling for traction on a loose-dirt road makes for unpredictable and testing conditions.
This is where the fabled and spectacular Swedish flick was born! That classic manoeuvre in which the car is setup in an oversteer attitude ahead of the turn and then skilfully powered to the apex, before rocketing towards the exit. This extremely difficult tactic would not deliver the best lap times on an unchanging asphalt circuit, but in the helter skelter of rallying is the fine line between a quick time and a “Did Not Finish” on the timesheets.
Now imagine doing this for up to 60 miles at a time, four times a day for three days in a row… oh and for good measure, throw in a few night stages.
130MPH In Pitch Darkness Brings Out The Best In A Rally Driver.
While Sports Cars, such as the Porsche 919, Audi R18 e-tron and Corvette C7 are spectacularly fast in endurance races such as the Le Mans 24 hour, a Total sponsored Citroen DS3 rally car travelling at up to 130MPH along tree lined roads in the middle of the night requires a totally different mindset.
It’s not the mere bravery of confronting the unexpected in darkness, but it’s the confidence in the driver/ navigator’s skills in reacting to unforeseen situations on the continually changing surface: And obviously, as any racer knows, when things go wrong Rally Drivers need to be resourceful!
Rally Drivers Are Good Engineers.
Prolonged high speeds and treacherous conditions are not good bedfellows and often end in mishaps, that in short (asphalt) sprint races would result in retirement, but in 3 day rally races require repair.
An upper control arm ripped out of the body would mean certain retirement in a sprint race, so a saloon car driver wouldn’t bother with a repair, but in the first stage of a three day event a rally driver would certainly use part of a farmers fence and a few feet of duct tape to get a stranded car back to the service area. It’s not uncommon for cars repaired in this way to crawl to the next service area and then go on to win the event.
Rallying Breeds The Toughest Motorsport Champions.
Although all motorsports require a high degree of physical and mental toughness the rally driver needs this in abundance. Unlike a sports car driver in a 24 Hour race, who needs to have laser focused concentration for two hour stints, a rally driver can spend up to 12 hours behind the wheel of a damaged machine, fighting to stay on the road until a service crew can carry out repairs.
This is not only physically draining, but eats at the very mental confidence of even the most experienced racer.
Irrespective of which genre of motorsport they support, all motorsports people acknowledge the very special ability of this unique breed of racer; Most, secretly acknowledging the very special skillsets and character traits that place them on the top step of the motorsport podium.