With a wealth of international rallies running throughout the annual calendar, the chance to immerse yourself in petrol head culture is pretty immense. The heat, the smell and the sounds render the experience quite unique from any coverage you’ll ever witness on television and if you’re really game, and have the cash to compete, there are also a number of races which are open to all – just make sure you’ve got an excellent navigator and/or comprehensive GPS, all the appropriate visas, and travel insurance that covers the extremes you’ll be going to.
First run in 1978, the Paris-Dakar Rally has undergone a number of modifications over the years, including a change of route that now sees the race take place in South America – so if you want to be in on the action a flight to Buenos Aires is required. This off-road adventure, incorporating three classes – bikes, cars and trucks, has not passed without incident; the very nature of its course has led to numerous accidents, deaths and (temporary) disappearances.
The Mongol Rally started life as a charity event in 2004, with just six teams competing – only four completed. Kicking off in the UK, the course takes in a 10,000 mile journey with the only stipulation being that competing cars cannot exceed 1200cc – think 2CV and Fiat 126. Contestants can take any route they like and the cars are auctioned off at the finish line, with proceeds being donated to a local cause.
Although an open rally, contestants generally need a lot of cash – the entrance fee in 2010 was a startling £30,000, some kind of celebrity status – David Hasselhoff is a previous contender, and a car – of course. The race kicks off in London before taking in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Boston, Quebec City and Toronto, rounding off in New York seven long days and nights later. Whilst the rally has become known for exotic and powerful sports cars, all manner of vehicles get involved and the ‘Spirit of the Gumball’ award has in previous years been awarded to a Citroën 2CV and VW campervan.
A right royal rally this one, having been launched in 1911 by Prince Albert I no less. Throughout its history the event has become an important opportunity to test new auto mechanics and technology and in 1973 it became the first event on the new FIA World Rally Championship. Traversing 400km, it’s also a great spectator event, with the course ploughing right the way through the fashionable refines of the French Riviera.