Looking at the world of motorsport, you can’t help but be blinded by the money involved. Even club level Motorsport can be perilous to your financial wellbeing. Without a dedicated competition car that’s highly modified, and with oodles of cash to keep it running, you’re destined to a life on the sidelines, where your only hope of competitive driving is when sitting in front of your xbox. Right? Well actually, no. You can be out competing in a multitude of motorsport events in your standard family car with no modifications whatsoever, and where the entry fees and running costs are under £50.
While these events won’t see you lapping Silverstone or thrashing through a Welsh forest at speed, the level of competition will be just as intense, and success will be hard won. The only thing missing is the cost. So what events are we talking about? Below are some of the most popular.
A series of tests on tarmac, around traffic cones. The course is typically very tight and twisty and includes stopping astride a line and reversing. It is a test of precise driving skill against the clock, with penalties for hitting cones and taking the wrong route. These events attract purpose-built specials whose drivers almost seem to make their cars dance, but there are also classes for standard cars.
Typical entry fee: £35
An Autosolo is an evolution of Autotests. The format is similar but made slightly easier with no stopping or reversing involved and with pointer cones to tell you which side of the cone to pass on. As with Autotests, drivers typically have three attempts with only the fastest counting. Autosolo courses tend to be more flowing in nature than Autotests and can almost feel like mini tarmac rally stages. In the past few years, Autosolo’s have become hugely popular with events almost every weekend of the year. Cars must have tax, insurance and MOT and be driven to and from the event. A clever rule to keep the highly modified cars away.
Typical entry fee: £35
Car preparation for Autosolo/Autotest
Empty the car of loose items and increase tyre pressures to minimize tyre wear. These events can be hard on tyres so a spare set or pair of wheels/tyres might be handy to ensure you’re is still road legal on the way home.
Despite its name, a Grass Autotest is effectively an Autosolo held on a grass surface. The low grip level adds an additional element to the driving, with deft control of wheelspin and the handbrake being required. These events are real levellers with often the smallest, least powerful cars being the most successful.
Typical entry fee: £35
A Car Trial consists of a course laid out on a grassy (or muddy) slope. The aim being to get to the top while passing through all required gates in the quickest time. A passenger is optional but can be useful to provide weight and improve traction.
Typical entry fee: £35
Car preparation for Grass Autotest/Car trial
Empty the car of loose items and reduce tyre pressures to increase the amount of tyre in contact with the ground, so increasing grip. Tyre wear is negligible to spare wheels & tyres typically aren’t needed.
12 Car/Road Rally
Unlike the events above, these events run on the public road and both require a navigator. The aim is to successfully traverse the route by plotting the navigation to get to each control within a specific time and to note the passage checks (typically cut up number plates) en-route to prove you’ve followed the correct route. Navigation can be cryptic but most events typically run a beginners category with marked maps for less experienced navigators. The winner is the crew that drops the least amount of time/misses the fewest controls/passage checks. These events are a real team effort. Even without the need to exceed the speed limit, the driver needs to drive the route which can sometimes be on narrow, slippery roads while and the navigator has to plot the route and give instructions to the driver.
12 Cars are cheaper and more accessible, being held on a weekday evening and lasting approximately 2 hours and 60 miles. Competitors can then progress to Road rallies which run throughout a Saturday night/Sunday morning over a longer route.
Typical 12 car entry fee: £12 plus 3rd party insurance, approx. £15
Typical Road Rally entry fee: £80-£100
Car preparation for 12 car/Road Rally
Additional interior lighting for the navigator to see his paperwork and additional storage to keep paperwork/pens at hand. Uprated headlamp bulbs or a set of spotlights might also be useful to improve visibility. A sumpguard will allow you to tackle rougher surfaces with more confidence.
Again requiring a crew of two, the event consists of a series of tests, similar to a large Autosolo course and run on a variety of surfaces. However, unlike an Autosolo, every run through the test counts towards your time. Events can be single or multi venue. This type of event is becoming very popular with many stage rally crews moving to this cheaper alternative.
Typical entry fee: £50-£160 depending on number of venues.
Car preparation for a Targa Rally
Similar to a 12 car/Road Rally, although most events take place during daylight so additional lighting is not required.
Costs can be shared with the navigator on 12 Cars and Road Rallies. All other events allow double driving to help reduce costs. The use of the public road, or the low speeds involved means no helmets and overalls are required, thus saving further on costs. Another advantage is the age at which you can take part in these events. The minimum age for an Autotest and Autosolo is 16, although PCA’s (production car autotests which often run alongside at Autotest or Autosolo), allow competitors from 14. You can also start Car trails at 14. To be a passenger or navigator, the minimum age drops to 12. This has allowed many an ambitious driver (or co-driver) to start their motorsport careers at an early age.
While it is true that any car can take part, if you want to be competitive, some cars are more suitable than others. A small, light car is easier to handle in the tight turns and a manual gearbox will be more responsive and help to keep the engine revs high instead of dropping you into a higher gear at the wrong moment.
Front wheel drive cars are more common, cheaper, and easier to drive so are recommended for the novice, but many people do use rear wheel drive cars to great effect. They also get to live out their power sliding dreams. Typical cheap FWD cars include Nissan Micra, Peugeot 106, MG ZR, Ford Puma, Citroen Saxo. Typical RWD cars include Mazda MX5 and BMW Compact. In the coming weeks we’ll be reviewing some of these cars in more detail.
It’s almost inevitable that once you’ve competed in a few events you will feel the urge to improve your car in some way, but what’s important to remember is that you don’t have to. Despite seeming to be all about money, the essence of motorsport is about skill, and these events allow that to come to the fore.
Most motor clubs will organise at least one of these types of events. Go to the MSA Website for more details of your local club. The BTRDA also organises national championships for all the events above.