We’re a competitive bunch, us rally drivers. We’re always trying to think of ways to improve. Undoubtedly the best way is to compete in as many rallies as possible. But what if you’re limited by family commitments or a lack of funds? What else can you do to improve? I certainly don't have all the answers, but here are some of the things I’ve thought of over the years. 1. Fitness Training Rallying can be hard work, with long days at the wheel in hot and dusty conditions. Some basic fitness will help you to avoid fading towards the end of an event. After patiently listening to my rally stories over the years, my personal trainer, Rob Denmark, of Movement and Health Solutions in Hornsby, has tailored my training sessions to include exercises that focus on my balance, hand-eye coordination and reflexes. We even do some drills where Rob verbally directs a series of exercise movements a couple of steps ahead of time. This simulates the driver listening to the navigator say the pacenotes a corner or two before the car’s current position. It’s great fun and keeps your mind engaged, as well as being physically demanding.

Phillip Pluck keeps himself fit in preparation for his next rally.

2. Other Forms of Motorsport I have a motocross background and I still love that sport. It’s much cheaper and easier to get out on the motocrosser compared to the rally car. Regular motocross keeps my skills sharp and keeps me used to going fast on the dirt. Provided I can keep all my bones in one piece, I think it’s really beneficial for my rallying! I get that motocross isn’t for everyone. Other rally drivers do things like karting, riding trail bikes and mountain biking to keep themselves sharp.

Rally simulators can help keep your reflexes sharp for your next big event.

3. Gaming The cheapest, safest and most convenient rally practice you’ll get is with one of the rally simulation games, such as DIRT 4. However, just pushing buttons won’t help much. These games only really come alive if you play them with a steering wheel and accelerator/brake unit. Having played these games over the years, I still think the best of all was the Colin McRae Dirt rally game that was released for the PlayStation 3 in 2007, shortly prior to Colin’s unfortunate death. In my opinion, Colin McRae Dirt had the most realistic driving physics of all the rally games I’ve tried. The main downside with playing these games is that you tend to drive right on the limit and regularly over it! Of course, that doesn’t matter when you can simply hit reset and start the stage again in a perfectly new car. That’s not so good practice for real-world driving!

The latest R5-spec shopping trolley at your local supermarket.

4. Maybe – Maybe Not! Some ideas for the REALLY COMMITTED: • Break up with someone you truly deeply love. Being able to deal with heartbreak will help enormously with your rallying career! • Set up an obstacle course in your lounge room, then throw lots of dust into a fan. Once visibility is down to nil, try negotiating the obstacle course at full speed! • Withdraw lots of money from the bank. Give it all to a total stranger. If you don’t know why this is relevant to rallying, you haven’t rallied yet! • Oversteer your shopping trolley around the aisles in your local supermarket. But hey, you’re interested in rallying, so you’ve already been doing this your whole life, right? Jokes aside, does any of this stuff actually work? Well, when I lined up for the first round of the MTA NSW Rally Championship recently, I hadn’t driven my rally car since Coffs Harbour in November last year. But I had been fitness training, motocrossing, etc.

Phillip Pluck set competitive stage times in the recent NSWRC round in his Subaru. Photo: Gravel Pics

The Pacific Motors Rally Team was seeded 12th in a deep field of 60 entries. Unfortunately, our overall result was ruined by having to drive stages two and three on only three cylinders. We limped back to service and our trusty crew fixed the problem. When our car was running properly we placed between fourth and seventh outright. We’re really happy with that, given the quality of drivers at the event. So, yep, maybe some of that out-of-the-car training does actually work!

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