A rally involves driving a vehicle between a series of control points against the clock. Each vehicle traverses the course independently, and no direct head-to-head racing takes place. The team or driver with the fastest time over the correct course is the winner.

In order that the rally may be conducted smoothly, a number of standard principles have emerged that everyone expecting to take part should know. Each rally will be subject to a set of regulations "the regs" which are published beforehand and given to every competitor. Usually the regs will follow the standard regulations laid down by the motorsports governing body for your country, and these have the force of law. In the UK, the governing body is the Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association (RACMSA), and the regulations are published annually in the "blue book". Each rally must adhere to these regulations, though some rules permit some variation. In any case, you should familiarise ypurself with the blue book for the sport you wish to take part in, and read the regs before the actual event.

While stage rallies are usually daylight events, (with night stages an occasional feature), all road rallies are night events. This is for safety and practicality - since they run on the public road it would be nice if they were deserted. In addition, most road rallies take place in remote areas to avoid a nuisance to the public.

Table of contents
1 Controls
2 Sections and stages
3 Unmanned controls
4 Timing
5 Route information
6 Classes
7 Preparation and safety
8 Fails


Controls may be manned or unmanned. If manned, an attendant called a Marshal will perform the appropriate duties for the type of control. You are expected to stop at any manned control along the route unless instructed otherwise. Marshals are usually volunteers and volunteering for this duty on your local club event is a great way to get involved.

Sections and stages

A rally is usually divided into a number stages or sections. These are classified as competitive sections or special stages, and non-competitive or link sections. The terminology used depends on whether the rally is a special stage rally or a road rally, but they mean the same thing in principle. You are only timed against the clock on a competitive section. On a non-competitive section, not only are you not timed, but you will be penalised for EARLY arrival - the penalty may be disqualification. This is because link sections are used to take the rally through built-up areas, noise-sensitive areas, and other parts of the route where it would be unsafe or unwise to drive in a competitive manner.

Each section will have a start control and a finish control, perhaps with other intermediate controls. In addition, the rally as a whole will have a main control at the start and at the finish (which may be in the same place), and other main controls if the rally is broken up into separate halves,which is common on longer events.

A typical road rally might use the following nomenclature for controls:

The route information which is supplied to you before the event will clearly show which order you are expected to visit the controls. Note that you are also penalised for visting the controls in the wrong order - accuracy is as important as speed on a rally.

Unmanned controls

Some rallies will make use of unmanned controls, frequently known as "codeboards". These are used to confirm that the competitor took the correct route when there are insufficient volunteers available to set up a manned control. They are very common on club events. A codeboard is a small sign placed at the side of the road on which is written some sort of alphanumeric code - often just a single letter, though longer sequences are sometimes used. By writing down the letter as you pass it, the adjudicator can check whether you took the correct route.


Time is a key element of rallying. Every section on the event will have a "due time". This is the time the organisers have allowed for a competitor to travel between those two controls by the correct route. There are severe penalties (including disqualification) for being EARLY - this is for safety - so simply driving as fast as possible from control to control is not a good technique. On a non-competitive section, times are generous, and are usually calculated based on an average speed of 30mph. It is OK to be late on a non-comp section (though see below about maximum lateness), but never early. Non-comp sections are timed to the nearest prevous whole minute.

On a competitive section, there is also a calculated amount of time to complete the section, known as the "bogey time". This is normally unattainable! Here, the object is clearly to drive as fast as possible and set the lowest possible time. However, rules vary for different forms of event. UK road rally rules currently prohibit the use of bogey times on the public road - perhaps for obvious reasons. A road-rally competitive section is timed such that in theory no speed limits need to be broken to "beat the bogey". In practice this would lead to a dull event with little to choose between teams, so organisers often make these sections extremely challenging in terms of both driving and navigation such that the bogey time is unattainable in practice. Competitive sections are timed to the second.

While there are no penalties for lateness at the end of a link section, the organisers will impose a maximum permitted cumulative lateness - usually 30 minutes. Exceeding this lateness (know as going Over Time Limit, or OTL) will usually result in disqualification. This rule is there to allow the rally to be run efficiently, and let the various volunteers get home at some point! Some events allow lateness to be made up in certain places to help you avoid OTL, most road rallies and club events do not, by law.

Managing the time is a key responsibility of the navigator. She must ensure that the driver is always in the right place at the right time - that is the definition of navigation in this context. In order to provide a seaparation between competitors on the road, teams are started at fixed intervals, usually one minute. The competition number that you are allocated for the event is also (handily) the number of minutes after the start of the event that you are due to leave. As the vent progresses, you must calculate your due time at the next control, allowing for any accumulated lateness. For non-competitive sections, the due time to complete the section is always clearly stated in the route information. As all marshals on the event that deal with the time (most) have a set of highly accurate synchronised clocks, so should the navigator synchronise her own clock at the start of the event to ensure there is no confusion.

Route information

The route information consists of the basic arrangement of the event - how many controls there are and the time allowed for each section, and also the navigational information required to find the correct route.

For some rallies, such as stage rallies, the route information is simply straightforward using directions, Grid References, etc. The emphasis of such events is on speed and driving skill, not A to B navigation, so the navigator's job in actually finding the route is quite a small one on such events. Conversely, for safe high-speed driving on a competitive section, the navigator will usually use a set of pacenotes which indicate every tiny feature of the road ahead so that the driver may plan for it ahead of time.

For road rallies, navigation is rather different. Here, the route information may not even be handed out at the start of the event (commonly known as "pre-plot"), but instead enough information for the following section will be given at each competitive section start control! The navigator must use the information to discover the correct route while the driver is already driving it, and at the same time keep the driver informed about what is coming up immediately ahead! Sounds impossible? It sure takes some practice! However this is the key to success for a good navigator, and learning the techniques is enormous fun. Many novices find that it is simply easier to wait until the navigator has the route down before starting to drive it - obviously the clock is ticking away all the time, so it pays to be very quick at plotting. If this were not enough, the route information on such events may not be straightforward - usually the higher level the event is, the more straightforward the navigation, but at club level it can get very cryptic indeed! There are many techniques for describing a route - see page on Rally Navigation techniques, tips and tricks.

The route information will yield only one correct route for the rally, though sometimes the occasional ambiguity may creep in - organisers check meticulously that the route information is right however, so before blaming them, check your own work - and make sure you use ALL of the information you have to hand. There may be some other information that disambiguates a route. For example, on many events, certain areas are marked off as "blackspots" or no-go areas (this will usually be where the organiser doesn't want any cars to end up, even accidentally - maybe they don't wish to annoy somebody who doesn't want the rally coming past their front door). Such areas are usually handed out to you before the start to make sure you have the information on the map. If you get an ambiguous route, clearly the branch that would take you through a blackspot can't be the right one - so it must be the other. If you didn't bother to plot the blackspots, you would have no way to determine this, and in addition run the risk of disqualification for driving into it later on.

Other route information you may be given:

  • Locations of main controls
  • Blackspots - do not enter under any circumstances
  • Quiet Areas - quiet careful driving to avoid noise
  • Cautions - places where the road can be dangerous, for example a bend much tighter than it seems on the map

You will also be given a timesheet on which the marshals will enter your time at each control as you progress. This sheet will also have space for codeboards if they are being used. At the end of the event, you hand the timesheet in, and it contains everything the organiser needs to determine how you did. On many larger events, a half-way refueling stop is scheduled and often the intermediate results are posted.


Most rallies have classes, which allow you to compete on more equal terms with other teams. Often these will be based on engine capacity, type and location of drive, and so on. As well as prizes in each class, there is a prize for overall winner and runners up.

Preparation and safety

For most club level sport, preparation can be minimal, depending on the type of event. The blue book contains regulations that stipulate the required standard and modifications for each type of event. Stage rallies require a lot more preparation than road rallies, because firewalls, roll cages, fire extinguishing systems, etc. are compulsory.

On a road rally, standard production cars are normally fine, and in fact heavily prepared cars are discouraged, and you club may even ban the use of prepared cars on small club events such as 12-car rallies. The only safety modification most require is an additional throttle return spring to close the throttle in the event of a failure of the linkage.

For the novice, the only modifications usually considered essential are a) uprate the brakepads (with perhaps a silicon brake fluid - the aim is to eliminate fading at higher temperatures) and b) fit some driving lights. This latter is because all road events take place at night for safety, and the further you can see (and be seen), the safer you will be. The navigator is your key, so keep her happy - fit a flexible map light and a socket for her map-reading device - the "potti". This is an essential piece of equipment consisting of a magnifying lens fitted into a cylindrical tube. The tube is internally illuminated, and placed on the map, allows it to be read in comfort in the dark without disturbing the driver. Another thing to consider is a set of dash-mounted clocks - you can buy these specially designed for rallying. The other essential piece of equipment for the navigator (apart from a lack of inclination to car-sickness) is the romer, a device for precisely plotting map references.


Fails are penalty points accrued for a variety of transgressions which don't warrant disqualification. In assessing the winner of an event, the number of fails is first taken into account, then the fastest time. In the event of a tie, the concept of "furthest cleanest" is used, whereby the team that collected a fail first loses. If there is still a tie, the smaller engined car will usually be declared the winner.

Note that beyond the level of the beginner, collecting any fail at all is usually a case of kissing goodbye to any sort of worthwhile result. In top events, if a crew collects a fail, they usually pack up and go home. At club level, one or two fails are not the end of the world.

On most rallies, you will collect one fail for each of the following faults:

You can be disqualified for one of the following:

  • Failing to stop at a give way junction
  • Entering a blackspot
  • Excessive noise
  • Unroadworthiness
  • Dangerous driving
  • Breaking the rules of the event