Rallying and racing are actually two completely different things. All forms of racing involve driving laps around an enclosed track. Rallying, by contrast, involves driving a route from Point A to Point B, generally on public roads. Additionally, there are many forms of Rallying. Some are concerned with precision: following intricate directions and maintaining specific velocities. Other forms of rallying, for example the World Rally Championship (WRC), are all about maximum speed.
The WRC is the highest level of rallying. It includes drivers and teams from around the world. Like Formula 1, it is governed by the FIA. The driver with the most points at the end of the season is considered the World Champion of rallying for that year. The team with the most points wins the Constructors' Championship. WRC rallies, like F1 races, are held at different exotic locations around the globe. Unlike F1, however, WRC doesn't get nearly the attention or spectatorship. So while rallies are celebrated events, they don't create quite the spectacle that F1 races do.
Also unlike F1, where the race tracks are modern, state-of-the-art affairs, WRC runs in brutal, primitive conditions. The rallies usually take place on dirt or gravel roads through forests or over mountains. The first rallies of the year are even run on snow and ice! Other than occasional bails of hay, or maybe strings of streamers, these roads are not improved or altered in any way. The harsh conditions are punishing on both cars and crews, and can create very dangerous conditions, but that's what rallying is all about.
WRC events tend to be held in remote locations. There are two reasons for this. First of all the extreme conditions in which they run are usually found in the outlying areas. Also, since WRC events take place on public roads, they're held off the beaten path to minimize the inconvenience to the motoring public.
WRC events take place over three days, with each day holding many stages of the rally. Between the stages are checkpoints where drivers can rest. At certain checkpoints the cars can undergo "service" where the vehicles are thoroughly checked out and repairs can be made. Actually minor repairs can be made at any time. One particularly interesting thing about WRC is to see world-class drivers on their knees changing a tire, or crawling under the car with a wrench. But major repairs must wait for the maintenance stops where the teams have their tools and facilities set up.
While the drivers compete against each other, they're actually racing against the clock. They are sent through the stages individually at specific intervals. In this way they'll never meet each other on the road, so passing is never an issue and is not part of the sport. Position is evaluated after each stage, and is determined by the lowest overall aggregate time. The driver with the lowest aggregate time at the conclusion of the final stage wins the rally.
Since the cars are not driven round and round a track with a finite number of turns that can easily be memorized, each car also has a co-driver who functions as the navigator. Each driver has detailed "pace notes" that tell him what is coming up and how he should prepare for it. The co-driver recites these pace notes to the driver throughout the stage. The co-driver must deliver the notes at just the right time. It must be far enough in advance that it is of use to the driver, but not so far that it gets ahead of where they actually are on the road. The driver must be listening to one note while he is actually putting into effect the previous note. Rally driving is an amazingly complex affair. In many ways I think that really drivers are even more skilled than their F1 counterparts.
At the time of this writing, Citroën is the reigning world champion constructor, and they are strongly in contention for a repeat. As an ardent Citroën fan, it is amazing to not only see the brand on American TV, but also to watch them leading the pack and taking victories. My favorite driver, Sebastian Loeb, not only drives for Citroën, but he is French himself. This, combined with the fact that he is the most handsome driver in the field, makes it easy to root for him.
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