Motor Sports Association

Navigational Rallies

In the UK alone rallying is enjoyed by thousands of competitors across dozens of championships and events.

Special Stage rallying is probably the best known branch of the discipline but navigational events on the public highway, known as Road or Navigational Rallies, have a long and successful history and are easily accessible to anyone with a road car and driving licence.

How does Rallying work?

Navigational Rallies

For Road/Navigational Rallies on the public highway the emphasis is as much on navigation as driving skill, as crews must maintain a time schedule through all the control points. The navigator, who uses Ordnance Survey maps to direct the driver around the route, must be very careful with timing - it’s just as bad if you check in too early as it is to check in too late at a time control.

There are several different forms of road-rallying such as Runs with no timing, Economy Runs, Scatters, Treasure Hunts, 12 Cars, Historic Rallies for classic cars and more competitive night events, where the emphasis is on good navigation and time-keeping. Lots of well-known rally co-drivers cut their teeth in Britain’s road-rally scene and went on to stardom in the World Rally Championship.

Navigational rallies are run on public roads at speeds averaging no more than 30mph and place the emphasis on navigation between the pre-determined points. A standard road going car is required, and some form of map reading light is useful, as well as a map, some pencils and a romer.

There are variations on different types of navigational rallies:

Scatter Rallies

Scatter rallies are an excellent introduction to the sport of rallying. They are run in the evening and start at a public venue (usually a pub) where crews sign on and at the allotted time issued with a sheet of paper containing various plot points on a map. For each plot there will be a unique answer required to the respective question relating to that precise location e.g. number on a telegraph pole, name on a sign, fire hydrant number etc. This confirms the location has been visited.

Crews normally have two hours to plot as many of these points as possible and to visit the locations to pick up the relevant answers. Final positions are determined by the number of correct answers returned and penalties per minute late are applied to those crews returning past the specified time. It could be suggested that scatter rallies are one of the easiest types of navigational rallies to start with.

12 Car Rallies

12 Car Rallies are open to a maximum of 12 competing crews and cater for both novices and experts alike. The object, on your allotted start time, is to visit each main time control and intermediate passage controls in turn, according to the route information issued at the start. 12 Cars could be considered the next step up from scatter rallies; navigation is involved, but this time 12 Car Rallies also introduce timing, with set times to be at certain points along the route. Codeboards (often two letter signs) are placed on the route, the crews must write down these codeboards when the pass them to prove they went the right way.

Starting from a pre determined point (often a garage, pub or public car park) crews are set off at one minute intervals with enough route information to get them to the next time control. They then have to decipher the route information which is normally straight forward map references for novices and some more cryptic crews for experts. The crews have to drive the shortest route between the points to arrive at the next control, and arrive there on their time schedule, and so on to the finish.

Crews are allowed to drop time throughout the event to a maximum of 30 minutes which if difficulties have occurred with the navigation (and they normally do!) might mean taking a short cut to get to the control on time in order to stay in the event. Penalty points are added to the overall time lost if for example controls (time or proof of passage aka codeboards) are missed. The winner is the crew who drop the least time and have the least number of fails. A number of motor clubs run rally navigation schools to help people learn the art of navigating. Current WRC driver Andreas Mikkelsen teamed up with TV presenter Vicki-Butler Henderson to have a go at a 12 Car, read about their exploits here.

Regularity Rallies

Regularity Rallies are similar in concept to 12 car events run in daylight hours (normally Sunday morning) and have a target average speed between controls. This varies from section to section. Secret controls on the route record how well the crew are keeping to time. The timing and average speed is calculated by the navigator manually from odometer readings and a stopwatch or more accurately using a rally trip meter and the driver then adjusts his pace accordingly. Final results are calculated on navigational and average speed accuracy.

Road Rallies

Road Rallies could be described as "one long 12 Car." The concept is similar; receive navigation, solve navigation, visit controls, write down codeboards to prove you have been the right way etc but they tend to be much longer in mileage and run through the night; typically starting around 10/11pm and finishing in the early hours of the following morning. Road Rallies often use "whites" (the roads coloured white on an Ordnance Survey map) which can often have a few bumps on them, and therefore many crews will opt to fit sump guards to protect the bottom of their vehicle.

How do I start?

For Road/Navigational Rallying all you need to do is join a motor club that runs such events. If you want to be a driver you will need to have a full driving licence and be at least 17 years of age but you can compete as a navigator from as young as 12. Many motor clubs run "rally navigation" evenings or "table top" rallies where you can learn how to navigate. Table top rallies are just like doing a rally itself, but from the comfort of a pub or hall and are a fantastic introduction to how to navigate, without potentially getting lost - other than on paper!

What kind of car do I need?

For Road/Navigational Rallying all you need is a taxed and insured road car with a valid MOT certificate.

You can either buy such a car second-hand. build your own vehicle or you can get a preparation company to modify a standard road car for you.

What equipment do I need?

For Road Rallying all you need is an OS map of the area, a pen or pencil, rubber, romer and your enthusiasm!

Remember that it is the competitor's responsibility to ensure that their vehicle and equipment comply with both the MSA's General Regulations (detailed in the MSA Competitors' and Officials' Yearbook) and the Supplementary Regulations (SRs) of the event or championship.


If you have any questions about vehicles or equipment you can speak to a member of the MSA Technical Department by calling 01753 765 000.