A car rallye has been described as an extremely large board game: public streets are the board, and your car is your playing piece. In each car, the driver and navigator(s) carefully follow instructions that direct them along a given course. There is a friendly competition at the finish to see which teams followed the course most accurately.
The Rallye Club (TRC) produces gimmick rallyes and timed rallyes. These rallyes come in various shapes and sizes, but they are all non-racing events held on open public roads. Rallye teams include friends, couples, and entire families, and any type of vehicle can be used.
A gimmick rallye is full of puzzles and tricks. Your score is based on information you record on your score sheet, which shows how well you solved the puzzles and avoided being tricked. No speed or time is involved, other than a deadline to be at the finish location. Teams are divided into classes based on previous rallye experience, with separate awards for each class.
KRON's Bay Area Backroads aired a great segment on TRC gimmick rallyes on May 18, 2003. You can see the video on YouTube.
TRC usually holds a gimmick rallye on the first Saturday of the month, typically starting at Larry's AutoWorks in Mountain View. Registration opens for a two-hour period, usually starting at 4 PM or 5 PM, with a short school for beginners at 5 PM or 6 PM, respectively. The rallye usually finishes at a local restaurant at 9 PM or 10 PM, respectively. There are a few other gimmick rallyes in the San Francisco Bay Area each year, some of which are run during the day. When in doubt, look at the calendar for the specific details of any particular rallye.
At the start of a gimmick rallye, you are given at least two sets of instructions. The General Instructions are the ground rules for the event, containing definitions, priorities, and other information. The Route Instructions direct you along a course from the start location to the finish location. You will not get lost if you simply follow the Route Instructions in the obvious manner, ignoring any gimmicks. Other types of instructions can interact in various ways with the General Instructions, with the Route Instructions, and with each other. Gimmick rallyes often have checkpoints along the course, where you stop your car and interact with rallye personnel, who might throw some more gimmicks your way. At the finish, you receive an answer sheet (the "Critique") that explains all the gimmicks.
Gimmick rallye types differ mainly in the scoring mechanisms used to determine who figured out which gimmicks. A particular rallye may use one or more of these scoring mechanisms.
Don't be tempted to just drive up and down every street looking for coursemarkers though. Some coursemarkers are worth minus points. Some gimmicks have multiple coursemarkers (full credit and partial credit), and recording more than one may be worth zero or minus points. You should have a valid reason to encounter each coursemarker that you record.
At the start, you receive a number of photos. As you follow the Route Instructions, you identify photos that depict the view from your car and record on your score sheet the mileage along the route at which they occurred. A working odometer is needed.
Hare and Hound Rallyes
You follow the route by finding markings (generally mounds of flour/lime) at intersections. If a mound is found, then the correct course may have turned. If so, then a confirming mound will be located a short distance (less than ¼ mile) down the correct course. A working odometer is needed; the adjusted mileage closest to that of the rallyemaster wins.
Treasure Hunts (Map Clue Rallyes)
You use clues and riddles to find streets or landmarks on the provided map. Then you lay out your own course to travel to these locations to gather the requested information for your score sheet.
A timed rallye requires you to stay on time. Your score is based on whether you arrive at checkpoints at the correct time, with equal penalties for arriving either early or late. The route and checkpoint locations may be known or unknown, and the Route Instructions may or may not include traps (gimmicks) that make you early or late if you do them wrong.
Timed rallyes are written taking into account speed limits and traffic. Departure times are staggered at the start, usually one minute apart. Each leg of the rallye is scored separately, so you cannot make up for being late at one checkpoint by being early at another. There is a maximum penalty per leg, typically between ½ minute and 5 minutes.
Like gimmick rallyes, timed rallyes have awards classes based on experience. However, awards classes in timed rallyes may also be based on your use of computational equipment. For some timed rallyes, such equipment (e.g., a more accurate odometer, a GPS receiver, or a rallye computer) can help you get a better score. Therefore, you compete only against others who are similarly equipped.
You follow Route Instructions that direct you on a course at assigned speeds. You are timed when you arrive at checkpoints, which are usually at undisclosed locations. The correct time of arrival is based on the distance traveled and the speeds assigned. Upon arrival at a checkpoint, you are assigned an out time, the time at which you are to start the next leg.
Some rallyes use do-it-yourself checkpoints in addition to timed checkpoints. When you arrive at a do-it-yourself checkpoint, you record the time you arrived (or wanted to arrive) on your scorecard. Your out time at a do-it-yourself checkpoint is a fixed interval (typically 2 or 3 minutes) after your arrival time.
The first section of every T&D rallye is an odometer check, where you are given a fixed amount of time to follow instructions to a specific place, and are told the official distance to that point. You can use this information to adjust your speeds or odometer readings to compensate for differences between your odometer and that of the organizers.
Some T&D rallyes include course-following or timing traps. These traps are similar to the tricks found in gimmick rallyes, and might cause you to take a longer or shorter route, or to drive at a different speed. Missing a trap would cause you to you arrive either early or late at the next checkpoint.
T&D rallyes are common throughout the United States, and range in length from an hour or two to multiple-day events covering many hundreds of miles. TRC presents a few T&D rallyes each year, which usually take about three hours on the course.
A Monte Carlo rallye is like a T&D Rallye, but there are usually no traps, and the course is typically faster (but still safe and legal, of course), longer, and windier than one for a T&D. The instructions for some Monte Carlo rallyes use line drawings of intersections when they tell you to turn. Some of these drawings resemble tulips, and hence the nickname for this type of rallye.
Each leg of a Monte Carlo rallye specifies a minimum distance point (generally ¼–¾ of the leg), and the checkpoint is guaranteed to occur after that point. Thus, you need to maintain the assigned average speed only after reaching the minimum distance point. Typically, each leg of a Monte Carlo rallye has no more than two assigned speeds: one before the minimum distance, and one after the minimum distance.
Despite its nicknames, a Pan Am rallye is quite different from a Monte Carlo rallye. In a Pan Am Rallye, you are told in advance exactly when you are due at every checkpoint, but not where they are. Rather than instructions that tell you where to turn, you receive a set of maps and descriptions of the checkpoint locations. Each description usually tells you something about the checkpoint location (such as what road or roads it is or is not on) and from what direction to approach.
The instructions typically tell you the exact location and direction of entry for a standoff for each checkpoint. At the standoff, you will be able to see the checkpoint, or will get more information about its location. After you leave a standoff, you can drive at whatever speed you want (even creeping very slowly), but you are not allowed to stop until reaching the checkpoint.
This rallye type was named for an annual event called Pan Am which ran from the late 1950s through about 1980. Pan Am rallyes tend to be major events, often taking 8–14 hours on course and including a banquet/hotel package. ITN Rallye Club regularly presents Pan Am rallyes.
TRC created this hybrid between Pan Am and Monte Carlo rallyes. In the first part of each leg, you navigate to a minimum distance location using maps (like a Pan Am rallye). Then you proceed to the checkpoint while maintaining an assigned average speed (like a Monte Carlo rallye). Traps are possible, and some checkpoints may be of the do-it-yourself variety. Pan Carlo rallyes are presented occasionally.
In a regularity rallye, you set your own speed while following the Route Instructions, and are timed at unknown locations. Then you re-run the course one or more times and attempt to match those times.
TRC does not produce performance rallyes, although several TRC members are working with the San Francisco Region of SCCA to bring performance rallyes back to Northern California. Performance rallyes involve racing against the clock in dirt/gravel/mud/snow/ice on closed roads. Safety equipment (rollcage, harnesses, helmets, fire extinguisher, etc.), a competition license, and a co-driver are required.
National championship caliber events, usually run over 2 to 3 days, with at least 100 miles of stage legs where the roads are closed for competition.
Divisional level area championship events that generally run a single day, with 30 to 100 stage miles.
Short events with multiple runs over a single closed course, such as off-road recreation park or hill climb. May not require co-driver or routebook.
Low speed autocross-like events on unpaved field/lot. Does not require co-driver, routebook or most safety equipment.