The SCCA returned to rally style events yesterday, with the first RallySprint event taking place at Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH. A total of 26 competitors drove two different configurations of the school’s extensive network of gravel roads and training areas. This was the first SCCA event of its kind since 2004, when they left all forms of rally except rallycross. However, it ran extremely smoothly, thanks to the efforts of event chair Scott Beliveau and his team of volunteers, recruited from the strong New England Region rallycross community and New England Forest Rally volunteers.
Since the event ran on actual rally roads, full rally car preparation, safety equipment, and co-drivers were required. Chicanes were added in places to keep top speeds below 70mph. It was a more relaxed event than most stage rallies. There were no championships at stake, and the challenge, or tedium, depending on how you look at it, of transits, regroups, and being precisely on time was gone. The focus was entirely on driving fast on gravel roads.
RallySprint is intended to help bridge the gap – more like a massive chasm – between rallycross and stage rally. While anyone can take their street car out to dodge cones in a dirt field, stage rally requires a dedicated car and a great deal of time and expense. A fair amount of car prep is still required, but a RallySprint is a one day event. If you’re strapped for time or cash, you could conceivably drive to and from the event on the same day, eliminating the cost of hotels. You only need to feed yourself and your team for one day instead of five. Yet you still get an experience similar to a stage rally, which is great practice for those who intend to go there but can’t quite afford it yet, or who want some practice before going all the way.
Some familiar faces from local rallies came out to play, but there were many new faces as well. Ten years ago, I autocrossed with Dan Fouquette at Cumberland Motor Club events in Maine. Today, the 2002 Subaru 2.5RS he autocrossed back then has been converted into a rally car. He drove and completed the RallySprint, with his sister Angie co-driving. Ryan Wilcox brought his Subaru wagon, but originally for his girlfriend Kristina Pacheco to drive. Only when cancellations brought the number of cars below the limit of 30 did Ryan himself enter. Yes, it is possible to have two drivers in one car, making RallySprint a great opportunity for drivers and co-drivers to try swapping seats.
(Correction: Ryan didn’t drive - his friend Adam Brodeur did. He brought the car up just so other people could beat on it. Awesome.)
This was also a great opportunity for new volunteers to learn various worker positions. With just a few experienced people running key roles, first timers can be trained on timing controls, filling out time cards, running flying finish, and other tasks that will be useful knowledge when working at a stage rally. Start and finish control workers swapped places between the morning and afternoon runs. This was completely unnecessary for the logistics of the event, but it was done so these workers could learn both positions in the same day. With two run groups getting three or four runs per session, workers got much more practice than they would at a stage rally. Best of all, there was very little down time, so workers didn’t have to get into position, then wait for hours for cars to show up after running other stages. I worked finish radio all day (one of those key roles), and from what I saw, any of the people I worked with could run a start or finish control at a stage rally after yesterday’s experience.
To say the event was a success is an understatement. Even before it was over, Scott Beliveau told me he hopes to run another in October, and even more in the future – some of which would hopefully be in more open spaces without solid objects, with reduced car preparation requirements to make them more accessible to people without fully prepared rally cars.
SCCA RallySprint is still a pilot program, so don’t get your hopes up too far just yet. But if future RallySprints run as well and as smoothly as the Team O’Neil RallySprint did, the future of RallySprint looks very good indeed.
(Photos by Wyatt Knox)