When a driver’s satisfaction with rallycrosses and the odd track day wanes, they get the urge to try the rally stage and fling their car amidst the trees. Despite what some might believe, the process of preparation isn’t all that demanding. Production cars require far less than one might think to pass tech for a proper rally.
Cages and Damage Control
The modification emphasis on low-level, production car-based rally cars is based around safety. Essentially – a decent, triangulated rollcage, FIA-certified seats and belts, and a fire extinguisher are what’s needed. That cage needs to be built in a specific way as well – no bolt-in cages and only triangulated rollcages are approved for Rally America.
Because side-impacts are what, in aggregate, do the most damage in rally racing, many modern cages are optimized in these areas so that pesky trees cannot penetrate the cabin as easily. Double door bars are not a requirement, but something that’s strongly suggested. There are plenty of stationary objects to come into contact with on the rally stage, anyways.
It tempting to skimp on preparation and just get out and drive. Many might think, “I wouldn’t hit anything – I simply wouldn’t be going fast enough.” However, there’s really no way around it – such modifications are mandatory, and if there’s one relevant nugget of wisdom a wise old racer lent me, it’s that proper preparation is the cheapest insurance policy out there. Physical therapy is much more expensive than any combination of racing seats, cages, HANS devices, and helmets.
So if years of visiting a chiropractor doesn’t sound fun, it’s wise to invest in the right gear. Again, a platform doesn’t need to be terribly expensive – a $500 Craigslist beater is sufficient. But that rustbucket ought to be outfitted with high end seats – preferably those with lateral head restraints. Trees behave like raptors – they attack from the side.
Suspension Travel and High-End Dampers
While it might not be the most important modification made for a first-timer, upgraded suspension is a good idea. That first blast through the forest might be at a relatively-slow pace, but once confidence and courage increase, it becomes harder to stay on the road and not bounce off into the surrounding scenery. Of course, proper rally dampers can cost a pretty penny, but once those straight line speeds increase substantially, it’s worth looking more damper control and the shock towers ought to be reinforced.
Nevertheless, stock suspension is often soft enough to carry a newer driver to the limit of their abilities. As long as there is some suspension travel, the car is capable. Bottoming out is a possibility, if not likely, with stock suspension, so skid plates are another requirement, unless a nasty oil spill sounds like your idea of a good time.
Finding the Courage (to Remove the Checkbook)
It might be worrying, but building a rally car and making the requisite payments is really oriented towards keeping the occupants safe so that they may race another day. First comes the safety measures, then a bit of chassis improvement, and, if needed, tuning comes last. However, as rally is a sport that rewards improvisation, having the best possible car on the stage – at this stage of one’s rallying experience – is not a massive advantage. Seat time is what counts, and staying safe to ensure regular experience in the cockpit is the aim.