NASA Rally Sport continues its role as innovation leader and grassroots champion with its introduction of the new RallySolo class for 2012. This program allows drivers to attack the rally stages without the traditionally required navigator. This move, which opens up the events to an entirely new audience, is great news for the existing events.
"Organizing rallies is all about getting people to come out participate." says Anders Green of NASA Rally Sport. "The more folks you can get out on the stages, the more excitement and fun there is for everyone, and the more affordable the events can be for all the racers. We want to be inclusive and get as many racers as possible out on the stages. The more the merrier. RallySolo adds to the existing racing, we have no plans to displace the traditional format of a two person team."
Motorsport is dominated by single-seat cars, with rally being a notable standout by requiring a team of driver and navigator. There is nothing unusual about racing solo on gravel or dirt, however. Desert races like the Baja 1000 have a long history of allowing single seat classes. Hillclimbs around the country also allow the same arrangement. The challenge and excitement of a single driver, pushing themselves in an endurance test against the clock, will appeal to many of the rugged individualists that make up the racing community.
The cost savings of building a rally car without the provisions for a navigator is at least one to two thousand dollars in addition to another thousand dollars in safety equipment for the second occupant. The challenge of besting the stages without a navigator will appeal to a new, different group of racers. The existing rally community loves the current format of driver and navigator, and while the RallySolo program will seem strange to them, it was not designed for existing competitors.
"A great driver and navigator team will always be faster than a solo driver, there's no question. A couple of our regulars may try RallySolo, but I don't expect any significant count of existing rally drivers to switch to it long term." say Green. " But we're not trying to take the existing group of rally racers and cut the pie into different shaped slices. This is really about expanding the sport and getting new blood involved. Growing the sport is critical, and that means having open minds and trying out new ideas. If solo drivers can navigate through 1000 miles of open Mexican desert, I'm fully confident they can successfully navigate the closed roads of a rally."
The program will appeal most to new drivers just getting started in the sport. The reduced complexity in the car build and simpler team requirements mean a lower initial barrier to getting started. In the same way that all racers continually upgrade their race cars, it is believed that RallySolo drivers will race solo for a couple years, and then 'upgrade' to racing with a codriver to further increase their speed.
"Many of us have forgotten how tough it was when we got started in rally." continued Green. "Now, to get started as a rally driver, you need to convince your best friend that they should shell out $1400 dollars for safety gear and a rally license just to sit next to you. When you're new and just getting into the sport, that is a serious barrier to entry. In the last decade, participation in rally in the US has been cut in half. For those that love rally, it would be irresponsible not to create ways to increase entries when the sport has faced such continual declines in recent years."
One of the fundamental aspects of race tracks that make them successful is that they are inherently able to support multiple uses. There might be stock cars one weekend, motorcycles the next, open wheel racing the next, followed by non-timed driving schools. This flexibility of use is what allows these facilities to operate in the black. Until recently, rally events have been extremely limited in the types of vehicles that could run, limited to just one type: rally cars. NASA Rally Sport increased the options by introducing RallyMoto to allow motorcycles on rally stages, and continues to expand the opportunities of rallies to attract new racers with the RallySolo program. Producing a rally event is very resource intensive and the temporary 'track' that is created should be fully utilized by a large field of racers.
The first rally offering the RallySolo program is the Sandblast Rally based in Cheraw, South Carolina. On February 4th, 2012, Sandblast Rally will debut this next evolution of rally racing. Five years ago at the very same event, NASA Rally Sport introduced the RallyMoto program, which allowed motorcycle riders to compete on rally stages. RallyMoto remains the most successful program in modern US rallying at bringing new racers to the rally stages, and NASA Rally Sport hopes that RallySolo will be equally successful.