We had a lot of fun and saw some great cars driving hard. What's better than a day in the sun watching awesome cars drive hard?
This article is being written using some photos by Northern Smile Photography - the joint hobby photography venture between Melons' Better Driving and his mom, an avid photographer. This article will use some highly artistic scenery photos to create an atmosphere and better explain the beautiful side of navigational rallies, in between the parts aimed at explaining the competitive side of navigational rallies. At the end, the two will have fused and you - dear reader - will hopefully come away with a very awesome understanding of the fusion of exploration/wanderlust and spirited driving that is navigational rally.
Let's start off with the basics. Navigational rally (sometimes called TSD (time, speed, distance) rallies, or navi rally) is a subsection of rallysport, which is not the same as "Stage" or "Performance" rally, simply because there is a speed limit, and the roads are not closed. The local road authorities - in our case, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario - permits these rallies on the basis that competitors are not legally doing anything dangerous. Anyone who does anything dangerous, from speeding, to aggressive driving, is ejected from the event. But, more on that later. Just remember - navi rally is not the same as stage rally, or rallycross, which are both closed-course events where excess speeding is permitted.
So, if navi rallies aren't the same as stage rallies, what's the difference? I can picture the confusion. Don't get ahead of yourself too much. I'll explain!
So, whereas in a stage rally, the winner is always the fastest to arrive, in a TSD rally, the winner is never the fastest. At least, not in theory. Maybe if everyone else ends up in a snowbank.... I'm getting ahead of myself a little. Because the objective is not outright speed, but rather consistent speed, you are timed to the second or the millisecond - just like in stage rally - but, unlike with stage rally, the organizers know exactly when you will arrive at the checkpoints - because they tell you how fast to drive. The general rule of thumb is 10% less than the speed limit, although that is a rough guideline, and it can be a little less than 10%, or it can be exactly the speed limit in other places. Now, that seems easy! How can it be hard to drive 10% under the speed limit? How is that fun, challenging, exciting, or anything other than just boring?
Well, there are a few factors in that transformation from boring to breathtakingly exciting. Let's start with the main one: road conditions. Seriously, you've never driven roads like these at speeds like these, legally, before, in your life. The main draw of navigational rally for most people is the struggle to maintain the desired speed as an average on the crazy logging/service roads in the forests of some desolate mountainous village, filled with more sharp corners, blind crests and one-lane-wide road sections, on top of also the incredible amounts of ice and snow. The idea that navi rallies are somehow boring, simply because they're below the speed limit, doesn't factor in that the speed limit is impossible on these roads, for anything short of an actual WRC car with studded ice tires. And, did we mention that we sometimes do it at night, where visibility becomes limited, and your eyes start to play tricks on you?
Then, there's the second reason. Honestly, I can't think of a more challenging thing, than trying to maintain an accurate odometer (to avoid wheelspin, to avoid having the odometer jump ahead by tricking the car into thinking its further ahead than it is) while trying to hit the calculated average speed determined by the organizers. Oh, and that's on top of not knowing where you're going ahead of time. You know how stage rally drivers are granted pace notes, to familiarize themselves with the roads in advance of driving them? Navi rally drivers aren't given pace notes. We don't know our left 4s from our right 6s.
Furthermore, we don't have complete directions to where we're going. We have puzzles, mathematical equations, riddles and more to try to sort out, so we can know which way to turn, where to go, and sometimes even how fast to go. Screw even one small detail up, and it's game over... All while being tossed around like a terrier's rag-doll toy at crazy high speeds, on a bumpy one-lane road, at night, with an inaccurate odometer and no pace notes. Yeah, it's that crazy.
The last thing that makes navi rallies difficult is the human body, and its reaction to the sport. This most recent navigational rally that Melons' Better Driving's rally team participated in was an all-nighter. We arrived at 8 PM, to prepare, attend the driver's meeting, and promptly set out at 10:23 PM - we were the 23rd car, and every car is separated by a minute.
We loaded up on energy drinks to try to make it through the night without sleep becoming the cause of our failure[s], water to keep ourselves hydrated (because, whereas the energy drinks help to prevent drowsiness, they cause dehydration,) and we set out with our bladders as empty as we could make them. With the water and energy drinks, the bladder could only stay empty for about an hour.
Add to that the frequent bumps, jumps, crests and general "not-flat-roads" and the bladder was a primary concern. Stopping during a calculated average speed section is murder to your finishing results. You have to relieve yourself before or after the CAS sections, at checkpoints, which are sporadic at best. Some are three minutes apart. Others are an hour apart. And, each checkpoint only lasts at most 1 minute and 29 seconds - it's one minute, rounded to the top of the minute.
I should mention that jumps/crests/bumps & full bladders don't mix well... Not at all. You spend the whole night fighting your body - you're sleep-deprived, hungry, tired, thirsty, and constantly in need of a pee-break. And, even when you get a pee-break, even that doesn't always go according to plan.
See, when you get to the checkpoint, you hop out of the car to take your pee break as quickly as you can. You try to climb the snowbank. You make it three steps up, and then you sink up to your thighs in snow. You're stuck. Have your pee, then realize that now there's yellow snow about three inches away from your belly-button You don't want to touch that. You want to get the heck away from it. So, you do what I did, when I found myself in that situation - you call for help from your teammate, then do a reverse-somersault, so that you flip backwards and out of the snowbank. You're now soaked. And cold. Lots of cold. Did I mention that snow is cold?
So, wait. That kinda sounds like torture, some people might be thinking right now. Well, you see, the benefits outweigh the challenges. For the amount of hassle, you'll almost never find a more rewarding hobby.
You see, navigational rally is about the stories, the scenery, the fun, spirited driving, the fun, challenging puzzles, and the intense brain workout, more than anything else. It's a mini-vacation from the day job, to some semi-distant cottage-region village where the people are friendly, the scenery beautiful, and the tranquility mesmerizing. It's an escape from the neon-lights and work deadlines, and into the seat of what's almost a performance/stage rally, in terms of fun-ness, for a fraction of the cost, due to the loose car preparation requirements.
This past weekend - this past "Polar Bear Rally" was immense. It wasn't immense just because we scared some white-tailed deer at 160 km/h [because we didn't do that, as a disclaimer,] like the performance rally guys might do. Instead, we had our fun at an average speed of 72 km/h - and instead of scaring the deer, we drove past safely, while remarking at how cool it was to have seen the deer. I used to think that only performance and stage rally was fun. Yeah, I was wrong. Navi rally has a place in my heart now, too. Having had the opportunity to spend the entire Family Day weekend with my family, in Bancroft, Ontario, including a few crazy-fast rides through the one-lane sections of road in the area near Harcourt, I get it now. It's not always about going fast. Going stage-rally fast has its fun parts, but it's not for everyone. Navigational rally is. At any given navigational rally, there are many types of people - some like to go fast. Some like to solve puzzles. Some like to pee on themselves and get soaked by a snowbank. Some people like to use shovels to dig their car out of a snowbank. Most just want a fun vacation in a picturesque city, with an opportunity to legally drive their car fast-ish on some cool roads.
And so, a summary of the cost of this past weekend's costs (in Canadian dollars):
This is a somber post. No photos. No videos. Just a single thought: Why did it happen?
For anyone who hasn't yet heard, there was a tragedy in the Mediterranean coastal area near Monte Carlo/Monaco yesterday. A vehicle in a motorsports event (Rallye Monte Carlo 2017) lost control, ran wide of its intended trajectory, and [Author's edit: potentially] caused the untimely death of a photographer, who had set up a small camera to capture the passes of the cars. [It is uncertain about whether the photographer was killed by the car itself, or possibly cardiac arrest brought on by a variety of factors, which likely included the increase in heart rate and blood pressure resulting from the incident.]
That's all of the information we really have. There is nothing vital to add to that. We don't know if the deceased was accredited press or just an enthusiast out to get the best footage of the rally. We don't know what he/she would have done with the footage. And, while there is a video that you can find, that shows the accident, and while we know which car it was who caused this, Melons' Better Driving is choosing to omit these details and multimedia, out of respect for the deceased, and the driver.
As racing drivers, the worst thing that can happen to us is a fatal crash involving the death of a spectator or volunteer. The guilt of knowing that a driver error or a parts malfunction or something caused your vehicle to cause the death of someone else is overwhelming. It ends careers. It destroys lives. We will not be involved in any shaming nor any finger pointing.
With that said, though, there is a report that several fellow spectators begged the photographer to find a safer place to stand. The warnings were not heeded, and the begging was in vain.
When you attend a rally, it is understood that you do it at your own risk. Signs at the rally stages will advise you of such. No matter the driver's talent, things can happen. Control arms can break. Tie rods can snap. Brakes can fail.
So, when two tires have to do all of the work, how can FWD cars even stand a chance against more endurance-racing suited race cars?
Front-wheel-drive cars generally wear out their front tires faster. It's so common, in fact, that you have to break something in the rear suspension, in order to make the tire wear at the back worse than at the front... Or maybe you have excess camber. Either way, in normal situations, the front wheels wear out faster on front-driven cars.
Why, then, would anyone ever want to race a FWD car for a 24 hour period? It seems absurd to race a FWD car against cars which would suffer less tire wear, in theory. How do you ever win a race, with predictably twice as many pit stops?
It's not actually as absurd as you might suspect. I mean, the cars will still need to pit more frequently, for sure, but, there are definitely ways to get around the excess tire wear of the front wheels, on FWD cars.
In this case, then, what sort of trickery is involved?
It's simple, really. There are ways to limit the amount of tire wear, to the point that it becomes necessary to refuel at the same time, meaning that the extra time it takes to change the two front tires adds nothing to the pit stop. Or, maybe there are other ways to go about it. Let's list them off by the series that strategy is used in.
1. Continental Sports Car Challenge - Fuel Cell Size Restrictions
The most simple solution to hampering the tire wear of the Miatas and Caymans, (the lightweight, RWD platform is ideal for making tires last a long time), is to limit the amount of fuel that the lightweight RWD cars are allowed to put in, matching the fuel cell sizes to the cars they're put into, meaning that the Miatas, Caymans, and Civics all have to pit for fuel at the same time. And, well, since you're getting fuel anyways, you might as well put on some new tires. Simple solution, right? It makes perfect sense! However, it disincentivizes tire conservation for the cars like the Cayman and Miata, which still gives them the upper hand. It's not perfect on its own. What else is there to do?
2. Touring Car Endurance - Limit the Class to FWD Only
I mean, if only FWD cars are entered, no one has any advantage. The TCR2 platform of the top class of TCE racing only allows supercharged 2000cc FWD cars. This is one solution that sorta works, but, perhaps it lacks the same sort of variety of the other series.
3. Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge - Allowing More Setup Variations
You were told that FWD almost always gets worse tire wear, compared to its RWD competition. Well, it's mostly true. But, it isn't always true. You see, the problem with FWD endurance race cars is their inate understeer. But, given the right setup, understeer becomes oversteer. FWD race cars are tuned to oversteer with even the most minute mistake. Brake a slight bit too hard, in a FWD race car, and you will be greeted with a big slide. Here's one such example:
But, by avoiding that huge understeer that comes with road-legal FWD cars (not including performance FWD cars), you can balance the tire wear out a little more evenly. Doing that in combination with the fuel cell size restriction I mentioned above might just be enough to finally make for a fair fight between FWD and RWD endurance cars.
So, there you have it. There are multiple ways to make your FWD car actually competitive in an endurance racing series. And, as endurance racing grows in popularity, and as more and more cars become FWD, this is important knowledge for the future of motoring.
So, Nico Rosberg won his first WDC and retired from his Formula 1 career. The Formula 1 world has fallen on its head, in the following week. Let's sort through the noise and chatter and try to make some sense of this all.
Firstly: There is already too much speculation about his replacement. I don't believe that anyone currently in Formula 1 will replace Nico Rosberg, except maybe Pascal Wehrlein. I can't imagine a driver like Alonso, Vettel or Ricciardo foregoing their current teammates to join onto Hamilton's team. I think Hamilton's behaviour partially pushed the fairly quiet German into retirement. I think that any other highly competitive drivers like Alonso, Vettel or Verstappen wouldn't be a good fit because of the ensuing intra-team conflict. As Hamilton's personality is so incredibly competitive that if he doesn't win, he must blame the team for sabotage and various other unnecessary claims, any other driver who fights tooth & nail and won't give an inch would not be a good fit. Rosberg was the type who would let Hamilton do what Hamilton wants to do without much concern, and would drive his own race, for the most part.
If even Rosberg and Hamilton crash into each other and [at least almost] take each other out of the race on several occasions, imagine what Vettel would do, in a case such as Vettel v. Webber in Turkey, if his teammate were even faster than Webber and the rivalry more fierce. I'd expect a quiet driver like Esteban Ocon or Wehrlein, whose position on Manor Racing Team meant that they were never really put under the same level of pressure as Hamilton or Vettel, meaning that they might be satisfied with a second place finish to Hamilton, whom Mercedes have been trying to hold a leash on for the past half-year. Ferrari with Vettel, McLaren with Alonso, and so on, those teams have to try to match the hot=head teammate with the coolheaded, logical teammate. You've got Hamilton with Rosberg, Alonso with Button, Vettel with Raikkonen. Raikkonen is the perfect example of a coolheaded racing driver who doesn't let his teammate's antics interfere with his own race, nor his post-race interview personality.
Instead, I'd suggest that you look at the crop of DTM drivers in 2016. These cars are very similar to F1 cars in terms of technology, with DRS and high downforce levels. But, with only three models of car, and not twelve, car performance was more closely matched from the top of the field to the bottom.
The top 5 or 6 in DTM should be looked at as potential replacements for a Formula 1 driver in a Mercedes powered car. The top scoring Mercedes driver in DTM last year was Robbie Wickens, the ever talented Canadian driver who already raced in Formula 1 in 2011, albeit in the slowest car on the grid. I'm slightly biased, when I say that I'd love to see a Canadian in Formula 1, but having raced with Robbie, he's a good guy and would likely enjoy his position a lot, even beside a teammate like Hamilton. He's a cool-headed driver whose personality wouldn't clash much with Hamilton. How well he would adjust to a Formula 1 car? No one can be too certain, but, he's my bet for someone coming from DTM to get [back] into Formula 1. By the way, Wickens outperformed Ocon in every race in DTM 2016.
If that doesn't work, I could imagine seeing only Wehrlein, Hülkenberg, or Bottas actually being chosen to drive for Mercedes. I don't picture it happening with any of the existing Formula 1 drivers. I fully expect that Mercedes would prefer to have a German driver, which furthermore gives creedence to the idea that Wehrlein could get the seat, if it doesn't go to Robbie Wickens.
In any case, it's early to guess and I'm probably wrong, but I'm just going by the history of drivers who have driven for Mercedes F1 team, trying to pull out the right guess. I guess my official stance is "Robbie Wickens would be awesome, but Wehrlein is most probable." Some drivers probably regret signing their contract with any of the other teams right now, since drivers like Palmer, Hülkenberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso and Vandoorne all have their contracts for 2017.
And Why Did Nico Retire?
Believe what you want. If his only goal was to become F1 WDC, he did that. He won his championship. Now, maybe he wants to make his daughter into a fellow World Driver's Champion, just like dad and grandad. I can't blame him. I'd want the same for my kids...
Others will say that it's because it's better to leave while you're ahead. Others will say, it's so that he can get into a different series like WEC.
Personally, I believe that he meant what he said; he wants to spend time with the wife and kids.
And What About the Other Retiring Drivers?
I'm really upset about seeing Massa and Button retiring. I'll miss them. Especially Massa, he's always been a great driver and a great guy. I wish them the best of luck with wherever their future takes them.
Drew Geier is a Canadian petrolhead whose main mission is to make motoring accessible, enjoyable, and affordable well into the future, by improving the art, hobby and lifestyle of motoring. He builds cars, and he writes about other builds. He's built a Subaru WRX and is building a Honda Civic EK.