Lost in space&emdash;and loving it
The couple in the Camaro looked really annoyed as I came up to their window and asked them if this was a checkpoint. It was obvious from the looks on their faces that they'd come out here for some privacy, only to be interrupted again and again by these idiots driving through the country in the middle of the night.
After explaining exactly what the rally was, how much fun we were having, they didn't seem that much more receptive towards us and those in the cars that had passed before.
The concept behind navigational rallies like the Ralliettes held by the Toronto Autosport Club is simple. Competitors are departed from the parking lot at one minute intervals, and have to navigate a given course "cold"&emdash;without any prior preparation.
The instructions in the mapbook can take a variety of forms, from simple point-to point directions to complicated diagrams and tables. There are usually several sections with different kinds of instructions in each; if you get lost in one section, you can skip it and go to the starting point of the next.
After departing, competitors (teams of one driver and one navigator) must follow the timed route. There are, of course, penalties for being late to one of the five to ten checkpoints along the way, but you're also docked points if you're early. Many of the directions are given with average speeds to be maintained; all of them are at or below the posted limits, making the sport relatively safe and relaxing.
Along the route are several checkpoints, cars parked by the side of the road with a monitor who will check your time in and out, and give you the all-important sticker for when scoring time comes around. (All of the checkpoints have a checkmark posted by their rear bumper, a fact that I had forgotten when pulling up in front of the Camaro.)
The rallying experience is a surprisingly fun one. Since events are conducted at moderate speeds, they're not as stressful as races. Because they are run in the evening (usually starting at 8:00 and ending at 10:30 or so,) traffic is light. The sensation of driving at night is a special one too, much more focused but also much more calming than regular driving.
You also very quickly learn how important teamwork is. Miscommunication between navigator and driver can lead very quickly to being lost in the middle of nowhere; do it properly and the exercise becomes almost routine.
Rallies are also a very interesting way to see the province. The scenery isn't rushing by, and in the dark lit only by the glare from your headlights, it takes on a very different dimension. Kilometers slip by almost imperceptibly: I saw more of the province in two and a half hours than I had probably seen in my seven years of living in the province.
At the end of the day, you return to the starting point to calculate scores and trade stories. One of the teams pulled an ingenious move where they used a driveway as a U turn ramp to slow them down without stopping (which is illegal within range of a checkpoint); an expert group got sidetracked for almost half an hour, a fact that makes me feel much better about our own sixteen-minute off-track excursion.
Much to my surprise, and despite our twenty-two minutes of penalties, we take home third place of the beginner entries&emdash;that it's by default as the fourth beginner hasn't shown up doesn't do anything to diminish our pride. At the same price as a movie for about the same duration of time, it's a far more involving, interactive experience, and one that guarantees to entertain.
The Toronto Autosport Club's Ralliette series runs on the third Wednesday of every month. Unfortunately, there is only one event left in the season; next year's series starts in April. The Maple Leaf Rally Club holds events on Mondays; watch AutoDate for details and contact information.
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