Autotesting is an exciting form of motorsport in which the emphasis is on skillful car control against the clock.
Autotesting is practiced at all levels from closed-to club through to the National Autotest Championships organised by the MSA and the BTRDA. In addition, there are inter-region and International team events.
What is involved?
Competitors are required to follow a course, usually marked with traffic cones, against the clock. A good course will require manoeuvres that reward the skillful driver. Such manoeuvres include stopping astride a line, changing direction from forward to reverse and vice versa and performing a 360 degree turn around a cone.
Before driving a test, the route through the course should be learnt; most do this by walking the course, performing the turns, the stops and the reversing on foot just as it would be done in the car. In the process, the required moves are committed to memory.
For each test, the driver is told that they may start in their own time, as the front wheels cross the start line, the clock is started, and it is stopped as the front wheels cross the finish line. During the test, if a cone is touched, a penalty is added to the time taken. A penalty is also added if a line is not crossed correctly, and if the correct course is not followed a maximum score is recorded. All penalties are as described in the event regulations.
What surfaces are used?
In general there are two types grass or tarmac (although occasionally concrete may be used). Grass autotests tend to be closed to club members, run in the evenings and are a very good way to get started. The higher status events - Clubman’s and National B - will use a hard surface.
What kind of car may be used?
The simple answer is any type, however vans are classed as commercial vehicles and can only take part if the organising club has allowed them in the supplementary regulations for the event. In practice, cars become more specialised as the status of the events increase; for grass events, road cars must be used whereas the cars used in the National championships tend to be traillered to the event.
Do I need a competition licence?
This depends on the status of the event, for closed to club and Clubsport event you will only need a membership card for the organising club. For all other events you will need a Clubman’s licence.
Does the car need to be taxed?
Grass autotests usually require the car to be driven to the event, for all other events a car does not need to be taxed and tested, however it will be checked at the pre-event scrutineering to make sure that it is in sound condition.
What techniques are used?
The two most obvious techniques in autotesting are the handbrake turn and the J-turn. The handbrake is used for a number of reasons; if the car needs to change direction from forward to reverse, the combination of the handbrake and the steering wheel may be used to swing the rear of the car past the front, reverse is selected as the car is roughly at 90 degrees to the direction of travel allowing for acceleration in reverse as soon as the car is pointing in the right direction. When done properly, the path of the car should barely deviate from a straight line, the more it does so, the more time is wasted.
The handbrake can also used to reduce the radius of a turn, such as when going round a cone. Again it is a matter of minimising the distance travelled and therefore the time taken. The third use of the handbrake is for rear wheel drive cars fitted with a limited slip diff, a quick application locks the rear wheels, breaking traction, the accelerator may then be used to spin the wheels which causes the tail of the car to swing around the front wheels.
There are a number of less obvious techniques; one of the most significant from the point of view of time, is stopping astride a line. The organisers will require that either the front or rear wheels should stop astride the line. If one or three cross you will get a penalty and the same applies if you fail to cross it. In its simplest form, you drive across, brake, select the opposite gear and then accelerate away, the time it takes between arriving at and leaving the line is critical, if it takes a tenth of a second too long and there are 10 lines, you loose a whole second on the test, so timing is all. The alternative is to swing the required wheels across the line, this does not involve changing gear and is therefore much quicker - but riskier. If for example you approach a line in a forward direction but must stop with the rear wheels across the line, a well timed handbrake turn will swing the rear wheels across the line allowing you to accelerate away as soon as the rear wheels have crossed the line.