Attending a Rally School | A noob's experience of going sideways
Motorsport has been picking up at a grassroots level a fair bit over the last few years. You have a lot more events happening at the local level and a lot more by way of schools that prepare you and teach you what you need to know about the particular form of motorsport. Case in point here is a rally school. Chetan Shivram's rally school to be specific. Which is what I attended recently. Here is what you need to know about the experience.
Full send. Sideways. Kicking up dirt. All things I've often heard my colleagues in the four-wheeled department talk about ever so often. Never quite understood the fascination with that whole concept. Let me explain. I’m a ‘bike guy’. For me it's bikes first and everything later. In my idea of fun on wheels, activities on four wheels have never ranked very high. But I think that has changed now. My colleague Anand, for a good week, was talking about how excited he was about going to Chetan Shivram’s rally school which was going to be held at an autocross dirt track setup at the upcoming Nanoli Speedway racetrack outside Pune. But as luck would have it (for me), he fell sick one day prior and I was deputed to attend the school.
Chetan Shivram is an established rally driver who’s clinched multiple national records in the INRC and other rally championships in the country. For the last few years, he has been hosting rally schools where he teaches the craft of driving a rally car in the dirt over the course of two days. He charges ₹55,000 for the course and this includes access to the car as well. The car for this particular school was a rally-prepped Volkswagen Polo. All you have to bring is a helmet and the willingness to unlearn a lot of the, let’s call it bad driving habits, that would have accumulated over the years.
The curriculum includes some theory about lines, what goes into making a rally car and the different classes of cars that make up the INRC. But I was more interested in the actual driving, which there is plenty of. You get enough seat time to practise all the drills that are taught at least a couple of times. This is also thanks to the fact that not more than eight students are accepted for each session of the school.
Speaking of the drills, we started off with lines to get familiar with the track and then we graduated to steering. Steering was likely the most important concept taught and definitely what I want to spend a lot more time practising. How much input to give, how to hold the steering and how to anticipate certain corners were all part of the drills and they certainly helped unlocking more speed. Steering drills were followed by braking drills of which there are a few types. Left foot braking and handbrake usage are included, and he explained which technique was used where.
Pulling a hydraulic handbrake to make a sharp U-Turn while maintaining speed is certainly quite satisfying. Left foot braking is something I still have to get a grasp of, but all in good time. After braking we were taught how to launch a car, what revs to launch the car at and more importantly the benefits of good throttle control. Getting a good launch and understanding which gear to be in for what type of corner as obvious as it sounds really helps in shaving off those crucial seconds off your lap time. Along with these drills we were also taught how to set up the controls and seat for the optimum driving position and many other smaller nuances to really help go faster while being safer and more in control of the car.
This piece is just a cursory glimpse of what you can expect attending a rally school like this. Take it from a non-car guy who has certainly developed quite the affinity towards things on four wheels after attending this school. You definitely must experience this if you have even the slightest inclination to go faster be it on or off the road. As far as my opening statement for this story, I certainly understand the whole send it sideways hype now.