Arts & Culture Sports

Rally racing: tragic but legendary

Group B sported some of the world’s fastest and most advanced cars for its time, while forging a new era for car culture.

In 1911, in Monte Carlo, the very first rally race was held, totalling at 1,020 km in distance to be completed by cars withholding a total of 25 horsepower. Since then, rally was picked up as a motorsport. Rally racing is a point to point race done by a driver and a navigator. The navigator directs the driver to the points and helps get them there in a time efficient manner.

The differences between rally racing and other types of racing are immense. Most other races have a limited number of tracks built for them with safety equipment, such as run off areas and barricades. Rally racing takes place on actual city and country roads. They drive anywhere. Racing on open roads with no run offs and sometimes along cliffs creates a lot of excitement but also a lot of danger. These problems make the stress of driving a rally race a lot higher, and rally racers have to constantly adapt to an irregular and unknown path, as opposed to driving on a set circuit or track. As racing enthusiast David Holman has put it, “racers (F1, NASCAR, etc) drive one corner 1000 times and rally racers drive 1000 corners one time.”

The late 80’s to the early 2000’s were the golden age of motorsports, with all-time peaks in sales, inviting more and more talent every year. Automobile makers were making large advancements, with more powerful engines, better understanding of aerodynamics, and better coolants. These advancements started something special in rally Group B.

While Group A rally racing regulated the car technology strictly, Group B was incredibly open, encouraging new innovative designs. This class pushed the limits of racing, leading to cars with up to 600hp. The only enforced rule was a homologation rule where companies had to sell 200 cars to the public. Some notable cars from this sport were: the Toyota Celica GT4, the Lancia 037, Porsche 911s, the Audi Quattro, and the Ford RS200. Group B led to many automotive and engineering advances.

However, the incredible speed and power combined with the open roads was too dangerous a combination to last. Group B started in 1982 and was shut down in 1986 after crashes caused a number of injuries and deaths. In those few years, there were 21 crashes with spectators and 6 with the environment. These crashes caused 6 civilian deaths and 11 driver or navigator deaths. The sad but reasonable closing of Group B marks the end of an inspirational era for large portions of racing and car fans around the globe.

Ever since 2010, racing has been in a steady decline: less ticket sales, more sound and pollution laws inhibiting some vehicles, fewer drivers, and more expensive sanctioning fees. With that, it’s hard to keep Motorsports alive, especially rally. Yet still, rally races survive. Part of their continued popularity is due to the fact that they are one of the cheapest races to host, as you wouldn’t need to pay for paving of roads, lighting, seats, and the prize money or sanctioning fees aren’t as high as Formula 1 or NASCAR. Driving through open roads and city streets still creates a lot of excitement that attracts fans. Even without the ridiculously supercharged Group B cars, rally racing remains a legendary sport.

Image: Flickr/ Brian Snelson

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