Stage Rally consists of a series of timed races, called stages. A stage is anywhere from one to twenty-five miles long and is usually a forest or logging road. The roads are closed to the public, and each competitor starts one minute after the next. Thus the challenge is driving the road, not rubbing wheel to wheel with your competitors. Keep in mind that the driver has never been on the road before, and has no idea what is behind the next curve or over the next hill. The navigator is equipped with a special odometer, accurate to the hundredth of a mile, and a route book which tells them what turns to make, as well as especially dangerous sections to watch for, like cliffs or river crossings. All of the stages, sometimes called special stages, are linked by transits, which are regular roads. Because the vehicles have to travel from one stage to the next on these transits, all of the race vehicles actually have to be street legal!!!
The vehicles need to be fully prepped for racing. This means a full roll cage, racing seats, skid plates, five point harnesses, and so on. Also common is seam welding the body, reinforcing the suspension, removing the interior, and re-designing the entire drive train. These are all out race vehicles that are loud and a nightmare on the streets. Definitely not daily driver material!
Because of the large amount of unknowns and the rough condition of the roads, there is a large potential for damage to the cars. This means that the service crew is a vital part of a team’s final placing. Much more than many other motor sports, rallying is a team effort. The driver must be skilled, but must also heed the navigator. The navigator’s job is to make the driver go as fast as they can, which involves either giving or withholding information! Both of them need to be able to fix the vehicle on the race course if something goes wrong, and the service crew has to be ready to keep the car running, somehow, till the next service.
The events are spectacles in themselves. Anywhere from twenty to one hundred and twenty or more teams participate. A large rally might have 600 people working the course as timers, crowd control, communication and radio relays, stage captains, safety marshals, and officials.