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It’s an unfortunate fact of life that, by the law of averages, a rally crash in anyone’s career is almost inevitable, given the speeds that are being attained today. While the aim of rallying is to cover a special stage in the fastest time possible, crossing the finishing line in one piece is the only thing that really matters on the results list. If you can achieve this without damaging your car, you’re one of the few that can manage to balance speed with good driving.

Pick up a motorsport magazine, log into a rally website or sit down in front of a TV and you’ll be bombarded with images of rally crashes, some serious, some less so, caused, in most cases, by cars losing adhesion and crashing off into the undergrowth. Rallying is a balancing act that can go horribly wrong if you and your car reach the point of least adhesion. Many crashes are caused by over-driving – driving over and above your ability or that of your car – but a greater proportion are caused by competitors not having the right equipment.

Now, I’m no expert when it comes to chosing the right equipment for your rally car, but I do know that you should never compromise on the condition of your tyres. Tyres and the footprint they make on the ground is all that’s between you and a trip into the boonies. Compromise on your tyres and you’re likely to feature in the DNF list in the results.

A couple of recent events have got me thinking that maybe we need to educate our new crop of rally drivers on the right choice of tyres, not just so that they can go faster but just so they can finish an event. Take a recent example: a guy that I know drives a Datsun 1600 pretty fast. He’s been competing for a couple of years and getting a reputation as a driver to watch in the future. His car is mechanically good, has all the right bits, and is an outright contender at club level.

Whether through lack of funds or lack of knowledge, what started out as a possible podium finish ended up as an off-road DNF, thanks to a bad tyre choice at the service break. His bad call not to change his rear tyres but to save the new ones for the next event, came back to bite him in no uncertain manner. Competitive times + bald tyres = Off road.

Look, tyres are one of the most important pieces of equipment that you can have on a rally car. Why else would the works teams have so many choices of compound or choices of pattern if tyres weren’t important? Why would manufacturers keep the pressure on their R & D departments if there was little to be gained in improving on what they’ve already got? Make no mistake, tyres are expensive, and rally cars wear them out quickly, so there’s a temptation to “leave ‘em on for another couple of stages”. But that really is a false economy.

How many competitors do you know that turn up at a rally with tyres with less than 75% tread or which are somebody else’s cast-offs from the previous event, under the assumption that “they’ll be good enough for me.” Fact: there is no substitute for new tyres or rally tyres that still have that nice, square edge. Yet some competitors leave their tyre choice or purchase until the very last until all the other bills have been paid for.

Now I know that some people will disagree with me but I believe that you cannot compromise on tyres. If you’re struggling to pay the entry fee and reckon that you’ll put the purchase of new tyres off until the next event, my advice is “don’t.” You have a rally car which is worth many thousands of dollars and into which you’ve invested many thousands of hours, yet here you are starting with half-worn tyres! What would you rather do – spend $1,000 on new tyres or $10,000 on a rebuild because your poxy old worn out tyres caused you to go off the road and crash? There’s only one answer to that, isn’t there?

Yet you see it all too often, competitors lining up at the start of events with tyres that you wouldn’t even think twice about putting on your trailer. It really is false economy. I know we all hate spending money on tyres, but if you really want to go fast and really want to stay on the road, good tyres will give you that extra advantage that no other component on your car will.

Don’t forget, the contact patch between your car’s tyres and the road is the same as the size of four handprints. At speed that contact patch decreases, meaning that those half-worn tyres barely have any grip on the road at all. Rounded-off edges will cause that contact patch to decrease even further, and when you put them further under load when cornering, there’s nothing left between you and oblivion.

If you’re one of those people looking over what’s left of your crashed rally car, it’s a good time to stop and think whether you’d be in such a desperate situation if you’d put new tyres on before the last event. Chances are you’d be planning your next event with a fresh car instead.

The bottom line is – if you’re going to have a real go in the next rally and try for a win, just make sure that new tyres all round are your first priority, not your last. If you can afford the entry fee but can’t afford decent tyres, think seriously about being a control official instead. It could save you a major rebuild.

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