Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen in their Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Day two, 2011 Rally Australia. Hirvonen is second in the 2011 WRC championship 15 points behind Loeb.

Intelligence may be the mortar that holds it all together but reflexive action and quick response take us to the next criteria – congenitally fast reaction time. John Buffum, one of the two best rally drivers in America, describes it as a good sense of feel and balance.

"Somebody with poor hearing or bad eyesight won't do well, besides the fact he can't see well. (Former World Rally Champion Ari) Vatanen is very careful with his ears. My left ear is not tremendously good but Vatanen really tries to keep his ears from getting damaged in any way. Vatanen wants to feel any little change or pitch in the car. I guess it has to do with the equilibrium in the inner ear. You want to feel what the car's going to do at just the split second before it does it, because then you can control it."

Obviously such sensitivity to balance isn't something that's learned or acquired but it appears universal in all successful rally drivers.

Given intelligence and inherent quick reactions, there are some things a rally driver can acquire through motivation. First is experience and the personification of that in American rallying is Buffum.

The (then) 36-year-old Vermont car dealer has won the Sports Car Club of American Pro Rally championship five of the last seven seasons in Porsches, Triumphs, a couple events in a Peugeot coupe and the last incredible season in a four-wheel drive, turbocharged Audi Quattro. Buffum has also rallied overseas with factory support from Triumph, Talbot and Audi.

(Editor's note: Buffum went into semi retirement several years ago (it's unclear because he'll run an event once in a while) with eleven national titles and 115 victories. He remains the owner of Libra Racing and oversees the championship efforts of his stepson Paul Choiniere, who has won seven championships including six in a row from '92 to '97.)

"I agree, experience, must be my strong suit. You can't beat it. Now you'll get the exceptions like Henri Toivonen and Vatenen (both of Finland) who were both very young when they were very good. But even they haven't rallied (nor had the success of) Hannu Mikkola, Marku Alen and Stig Bloomquist who has rallied for uptiumph years."

Experience in rallying is more important than road racing because it's nearly impossible to practice competitive conditions in rallying. Road surfaces change. The weather changes constantly. No two stretches of road look alike or, even, remain the same as each car passes over it. Athletes and circuit racers can practice situations critical to success. But you can't practice correcting out of a slide trying to dodge an unseen patch of black ice.

What is a Rally Driver? Part 1
Black ice or no ice, picking a line through a turn can be pretty vague in a rally. With events won and lost by scant pieces of a second, cutting a corner may not be cheating. It's the only option if you want to win. Just hope there's no rock or ditch off the road surface.
What  is a Rally Driver? Part 1
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala flies on gravel. Here he straddles the ditch shaving seconds off his stage time. in France, the organizers put steel poles on the inside of some acute turns to limit how much the drivers could "cut the corner" and shave their final stage times.


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Saturday, October 01, 2011 4:17 PM
Great article!
Sunday, October 02, 2011 11:46 PM
Great read. Glad you guys are covering Rally - it's definitely the ultimate driver's sport and I hope it continues to grow here in The States!
Monday, October 03, 2011 8:08 AM
Yet another great rally article, Bill.
If you have the time do some research on the Group B phase of the WRC (back in the eighties, when it was the World Championship), please do. They were, without doubt, the seasons that made rallying a sport that gave us, the fans, memories that last until today.
Don't get me wrong, WRC is great, but those Group B cars were brutal and pilots had to have a great amount of faith in themselves to drive those things.
Also, for the MotoIQ tech savvy fans, the cars themselves are worth, at least, an article.
Just my 5 cents.
Bill Wood
Bill Woodlink
Monday, October 03, 2011 10:37 AM
You're absolutely right about the Group B cars. For reference, there was an article done in the 80's with F1 driver Carlos Reutemann who drove in Rally Argentina in a Group B Audi. They drove the car from 0 to 100 to 0 in less than ten seconds total. I'm pretty sure it was 100 MPH and not 100km. He said the technology in those cars matched the F1 technology available then. They were stunning cars but they were dangerous. People didn't treat them with enough respect and that's why they're gone today. I can't begin to imagine those cars and objectives with today's technology and tires. Though the lighter weight in today's WRC cars and significant horsepower available might have today's car equal in performance and not so brutal.
Tuesday, October 04, 2011 3:12 AM
Spon on.
The main difference is that with over 20 years to evolve, current WRC's while developed from an existing road car, are faster because they have better equipment chassis wise, like suspensions, transmissions, brakes and most importantly, cutting edge tyres that make up for the lost engine power from the Group B days.
Even this year's 1,6L WRC's are faster then those almost 500hp beasts.
I personally recommend a visit to Lancia's ECV site (http://www.ecv1.com/e-home.htm), for the ultimate Group B car, one that never had the chance to prove itself in racing due to sudden changes in regulations back in those days.
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