You know the feeling when you’ve desperately wanted something for 10+ years and then finally make it happen? Well, I do now, after competing in Rally Tartu 2016 - my first ever proper rally with a fully caged car. There’s even an onboard video!

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This is a long post with a lot of pictures, here’s a very brief summary if you just want to scroll down and see the videos (yes, there are two): Built rally car. Raced in rallysprint in Lithuania - was 3rd in class. Decided to race in my first rally in Estonia - was not last, had fun. Onboard video is from our best stage of the rally.

Photo credit: Sulev Lange

Long story (somewhat) short - this summer I decided to stop screwing around and finally made the decision to put a rollcage in my e36 compact. Naturally, the project went quite a bit over budget, but when it was finished, I finally had a full-blown rally car! Sure, it still has only around 200 horsepower, relatively stock suspension, a gearbox that cost me around 30 USD, but hey, that’s still good enough to go sideways and have fun on the stages.

This is one of the first pictures of the finished car - quite happy with how it turned out

With that, it was time for some quick testing and my first ever rallysprint (basically a shorter version of rally, around 30 stage miles in total) in Lithuania, which turned out quite well:

Pacenotes right before this corner: “150 Right 4, oh, look, there’s a photographer at this corner”

We finished third in our class (out of six, but one of them retired) and 17th out of 30 in the overall classification. Our max speed on the stages here was in the 100-110 MPH range, on narrow gravel roads.

Yep, that’s me in the white shirt. My oppo username is written on the back. I love that shirt

First thing that I understood here - braking plays a ridiculously large part in the result here. I still need a lot of stage kilometers to be able to brake as late and hard as possible, without overdoing it. Also, my front brakes didn’t really work in the Lithuanian event, so it was time to get those sorted before trying anything more serious.

One more shot from Lithuania, this is from SS1

Originally, I thought that this would be it for my rally season, but then we fixed the brakes, put new suspension at the front, so I decided to completely destroy my bank account and registered for my first ever rally - Rally Tartu 2016, where we would cover more than 70 miles on special stages.

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We had initially planned to do some pre-event testing, but those silly thoughts were thrown out the window after we understood that preparing the car in time would be quite a challenge. Thursday was recce day and, since Tartu was around 3-4 hours away and the recce was set to begin at 8AM, we were hoping to get on our way at around 3:30. Planning is all nice and well, but the car was finally ready and put on the trailer at 5AM, which was when we began the drive. Up to that point, I had not gone to sleep yet, so we stopped for 15 minutes on the way so that I could get at least that much sleep and we can safely get to Tartu.

Recce went quite well, we were satisfied with the pacenotes, so now it was time to leave the car in the service park for the night. Since this was an Estonian Rally Championship event and most of the drivers were locals, it turned out that we were the only ones planning to leave the car in the service park overnight.

No, really, we were the only ones

Alright then, off to get some sleep, do some more recce on Friday morning and then the first two stages on Friday evening.

Ready to race!

As could be expected, the first two stages were difficult - I was very cautious (and just plain slow) in SS1, and we lost the pacenotes for a while on SS2. Still, we had reached the end of day one and weren’t even last!

This is the Polva city special stage

Oh, one more thing about rallying - if my car can be considered to be somewhat competitive (as in, with only a 20-50 hp deficit to the top guys) in rallysprint, the guys racing here in rally are just insane, we were competing against BMW M3's with 400 hp, sequential gearboxes, gravel suspension and really, really good drivers. The only realistic competitor in our class was also in an e36 compact, was also doing his first rally, but he had a 3.0 liter engine (so, roughly 40-50 more hp) and rally suspension (although not as expensive as on the M3's).

Yes, the co-driver really didn’t close the doors properly

Rather unsurprisingly, the M3's were way out of our league, but we were actually faster than the other new driver, which was definitely unexpected! Our pace improved on each stage, and we actually jumped in a few places as well, including on the all-asphalt special stage.

This is the jump. We are doing a bit over 100 MPH in the picture

By the last stage, we were really on it, and it showed in the results - I posted the 24th time among 39 finishers and even beat one of the M3's on the stage! Ok, he had a puncture, but that’s still amazing. We concluded the event in 28th position overall (among 39 crews) and were fifth in our class, more than 3 minutes ahead of the other e36 compact driver.

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All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait for next season to get back on the stages and, hopefully, pick up where we left off in terms of pace. I’ll most likely slightly upgrade the car over the winter, but not really planning to get too carried away with that - the engine will remain the same for now, even though I could use more power on asphalt, 200 hp is enough for now on the gravel sections.

As promised, here is an onboard video, this is from SS11, the last special stage:

The camera mounting position does me no favors here - it looks even slower than it was. Our average speed on this stage was 66 MPH. For those new to rally - an AVERAGE of 66 is a lot, we spent most of the stage doing 80+.

As a bonus, here’s a one minute long video from the outside:

This was an amazing experience, and I hope that I’ll be able to repeat this for quite a few more times in the future. Hopefully it was also a bearable read. If you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer in the comments.