Rally, sometimes known as rallying, is a category of motor sport (see also Moto GP, NASCAR & Formula 1) that takes place on roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. Rally is a special type of motor sport insomuch that it is not run on a circuit but instead in a point-to-point format in which drivers and their co-driver assistants race between set control points, leaving at regular intervals from one or more start points.
One can trace rally back to the 1894 Paris–Rouen Horseless Carriage Competition, which attracted considerable interest not least because a Paris newspaper sponsored the event. It led to a period of city-to-city road races in France and other European countries, contests that introduced many of the features familiar with modern rallies, including cars racing against the clock rather than head to head and the use of ordinary roads rather than super-smooth circuits.
Rally really started to take off in the 1950s when a number of new events joined established classics such as the Monte Carlo Rally that started up in 1911. The word tally comes from what used to happen in Monte Carlo. Competitors would set off from all four corners of Europe and rally – meet – in Monaco to celebrate the end of a truly unique event.
What are the main events in the world of rally?
Organised by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the World Rally Championship was established in 1973 from a number of already well known and popular events, including the Monte Carlo Rally. Incredibly, there was no drivers’ title in each of the first four years of the World Rally Championship, with the focus on manufacturers and cars.
The 2013 World Rally Championship calendar will feature 13 events, with the baker’s dozen of host countries being Argentina, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Monaco, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The season will start with the Monte Carlo Rally in January and end with the British leg in November.
Most World Rally Championship races take place on gravel roads but the events in France (asphalt), Germany (asphalt), Monaco (mountainous asphalt, susceptible to ice and snow), Spain (asphalt and gravel) and Sweden (ice- and snow-covered gravel) ensure that drivers who want challenge for honours have to be competent on a wide range of surfaces.
If one was to ask the average person to name a rally, the chances are that they would say the Dakar Rally. However, despite its title, the Dakar Rally is an off-road endurance race known as a rally raid rather than a conventional rally. This is because the terrain that the competitors encounter in the Dakar Rally is much tougher than the surfaces that the World Rally Championship participants face and, also, the vehicles used in the Dakar Rally are true off-road cars rather than the modified on-road ones used in rallies.
Which countries are mad for rally?
While the French can lay claim to having developed the sport of rally and one of its number – Sebastien Loeb – has won the World Rally Championship more times than anyone, one would have to say that the Finns are rally’s biggest fans.
Seven Finnish drivers – Juha Kankkunen (1986, 1987, 1991 and 1993), Tommi Makinen (1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999), Marcus Gronholm (2000 and 2002), Markku Alen (1978), Ari Vatanen (1981), Hannu Mikkola (1983) and Timo Salonen (1985) – are on the World Rally Championship honour roll and the Finnish round attracts massive crowds to the student city of Jyvaskyla in the centre of the Nordic nation.
Other countries in which rally enjoys a fair degree of popularity include Italy (two World Rally Championship winners), Sweden (two world champions), the United Kingdom (two world champions), Germany (one world champion), Norway (one world champion) and Spain (one world champion).
Will anyone ever surpass Sebastien Loeb’s achievements?
One should never say never but probably not. A champion gymnast as a child, Loeb switched to rally in 1995 at the age of 21. The rest, as they say, is history. Loeb has won nine World Rally Championship titles in a row since 2004, racking up 76 career rally wins from 164 starts, and he is almost unbeatable on his favourite rally surface, asphalt.
How do punters bet on rally competitions?
Well, some punters simply back Loeb before the World Rally Championship begins and wait patiently for the Frenchman to build up a sufficiently large lead that it is mathematically impossible for any of his rivals to overtake him. As far as some punters are concerned, backing Loeb at short odds to win the title is better than accumulating bank interest.
Most of the rally betting action occurs on the winner and top three markets before specific events get under way. The format of rallies – lots of short stages held in relatively quick succession – does not lend itself all that well to in-running betting and the sport’s turnover is such that most bookmakers would be unwilling to devote the trading resources to it required to offer a live betting service.
Rally punters do their homework, paying particular attention to surface form, place their bets and then sit back and hope that their fancies do not flip their cars, something that is all too easy to do given the extreme racing conditions.