The World Rally Championship: One of the Most Epic Races on Earth
The World Rally Championship is a breathtaking competition that pits competitors against both the clock and some of the most challenging environments on earth. We explore the history of the event, looking at the early beginnings of this epic competition.
The World Rally Championship is staged by the FIA.
With headquarters at Place de la Concorde, Paris, France, the FIA, or Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, was established on June 20, 1904. The organization was created to represent the interests of motor car users and motoring organizations all over the world. The organization is the governing body for many motor racing events, including Formula One, as well as promoting car safety across the world.
Consisting of 246 member organizations in 145 countries worldwide, the FIA organized the world’s first World Rally Championship in 1973.
The event showcases some of the greatest drivers and high-performance cars.
The competition incorporates some spectacular surroundings, with participants required to master everything from high-speed tarmac roads, rock strewn mountain passes in the stifling heat, and snowy forest tracks.
The World Rally Championship is the most important global competition in the international rallying calendar. The event has separate championships for manufacturers, drivers, and co-drivers, with a new teams championship added for 2021. In its current format, the event consists of a dozen two- to three-day competitions, with drivers competing in a range of terrains, from tarmac and gravel to snow and ice. Each rally comprises 15 to 25 special stages, each of which is held on closed roads, running against the clock.
The first event was an amalgamation of several well-known international rallies.
The inaugural World Rally Championship commenced in Monte Carlo on January 19, 1973. Alpine-Renault’s Alpine A110 won the first manufacturer’s rally world championship, with Lancia subsequently snatching the title three years in a row with the Ferrari V6-powered Stratos HF, the first car specifically designed specifically for rally car driving.
With each stage timed individually, the competitor’s aim is to complete each stage in the fastest time possible. Co-drivers help direct and navigate drivers, keeping them on track as they negotiate complicated routes, with the entire competition spanning hundreds of kilometers in length.
In this breathtakingly fast event, there is little margin for error.
A moment’s lapse in concentration can spell disaster, with brutally narrow roads testing drivers at every turn. The Monte Carlo Rally route is particularly unforgiving, with snaking roads, rock walls, and vertical drops waiting to punish the smallest mistake.
Each route pushes drivers and vehicles to the limit.
From the alpine forests of Finland and Sweden to the desert wilderness of Jordan, drivers traverse snow, ice, and boulder-strewn cross-country tracks at a blistering pace, with million-dollar vehicles waging war against some of the toughest terrains on earth.
The event attracts an international audience of about 800 million.
Broadcast in more than 180 countries worldwide today, the World Rally Championship is a constant battle against the elements and the clock, with drivers experiencing vast fluctuations in temperature, from -30 degrees Celsius during the Swedish leg, to 50 degrees Celsius or more in Argentina. There is no air conditioning in the rally cars, either, with the only ventilation coming through the window, providing scant relief from the heat of the engine.
Rally car driving is incredibly noisy, with the maximum permitted noise level for a rally car capped at 103 decibels. To put this in context, the pain threshold is just 17 decibels higher, at 120.
Stage designs vary significantly, with some lasting minutes and others up to an hour.
Every corner is different, and rally drivers are constantly looking for the fastest way to take them. Sometimes this may call for a driver to take the inside line, sometimes the outside, and sometimes straight down the middle.
Everyone wants to finish first, but no driver wants to be the first car out.
The first driver out has to deal with dust, debris, and standing water. After a few cars have gone through, sweeping the road, it becomes cleaner and easier to handle, with more traction. However, starting last puts drivers at a disadvantage, too, with heavy traffic causing surfaces to deteriorate.
Weather conditions can change in minutes.
Teams must have all tire options available at all times. This effectively means carrying a total of 62 tires per car, including hard, soft, and intermediate options.
Each driver has a team of skilled mechanics standing by. In addition to changing over tire sets, support teams must be ready to carry out repairs as soon as the driver finishes a stage. With just 15 to 45 minutes to fix the car once it enters the service park, the task is often a race against the clock.
This year’s World Rally Championship started in Monte Carlo on January 21, 2021.
It will conclude on November 21, 2021, at Rally Monza in Italy. At the time of this writing, Sébastien Ogier leads the race by quite some distance, the tactically shrewd French driver having won seven world titles to date, including the 2020 World Rally Championship.