Transylvania classic 2021: how to rally

Florentina Petcu Aug 26, 2021 · 11 min read

Usually, when we hear the words “car” and “rally” in the same sentence we think about noisy roads and the smell of petrol. So when I first heard about the Transylvania Classic Regularity Rally taking place in Sibiu, Romania since 2015, I had my preconceptions.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Transylvania Classic Rally has had a category for electric vehicles since 2017. As a Country Manager at Chargetrip, I’ve been part of the EV world for some time now and an event like this was impossible to miss. As an EV owner and a car enthusiast, this was my perfect weekend getaway.

One Wikipedia article and a few images from last year’s event later, I quickly registered for the event with my partner who shared my enthusiasm and counted down the clock until August 12th, when the two-day event started. With my chariot, Elektra the Lioness (my Peugeot e208), I hit the road the day before filled with anticipation.

At the time, I didn’t know what the word “Regularity” in the event’s name meant. A regularity rally gives people like me, who love to drive but are not enrolled in a professional sports team, the opportunity to feel the adrenaline of a motorsport competition without the high risks and costs.

Regularity rallies share some of the rules with the speed rallies such as road books, time controls, and special stages but the competition is held on public roads with regular traffic, and drivers don’t need any special safety measures like roll cages or helmets.

Special stages are called regularity tests (RT) and you need patience and math on your side to win them. The winner — you’ll be relieved to know — is not the one that drives the fastest but the one that drives most accurately. Participants need to keep an average speed as instructed by the roadbook and inside the RT they are compelled to keep any other speed limits present on the public roads.

Basically, a team (driver and co-driver) navigates a specific road segment with a certain speed (never above 50km/h) which means they should have an ideal time in which to complete each section. Any deviation from this ideal time translates into a penalty: a second plus or minus from the ideal time equals one point of penalty. In the end, the winner is the team with the smallest penalty score.

Without knowing the regularity rules, we arrived in Sibiu filled with enthusiasm, ready to have fun and convinced our driving patience was about to be tested. I decided to be the co-driver when we registered, with no idea what lay ahead.

We received our kit from the event’s headquarters and stuck the competition number on the car. At that point, it felt like more than just a fun weekend activity and nerves started to whirl around in my stomach.

We made our way to the event’s start area where the classic and electric cars were aligned in the small square. The crowd, intrigued by the spectacle, edged closer to the stage: all teams were presented one by one at the festive start and then got back to the designated area. People cheered, cameras and phones flashed around the stage. Cars from seven countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Great Britain, USA, Hungary, Romania) went on and off stage one by one. The models ranged from a 1920 Renault Torpedo and a 1929 Ford A, to a 1968 Oldsmobile BigBlock, 1980 Dacia 1300 all the way up to a 2016 Tesla Model S and a 2021 BMW iX3.

The next morning started with a visit to the headquarters to pick up our road book which every team received a few hours before the start. Half an hour later the briefing session began. We were curious to know how to read the road book. When do we start, how do they measure, why do we have two bulletins, what’s with all the speed limits, what’s with the excel file…it was a lot to take in and we only had 30 minutes in which to do it.

Next to our road book we also got bulletins with details about all the regularity tests of the day. Once we got to the start line we received a time control sheet that we had to keep and get signed and stamped by the marshals on each TC (time control) marked in the road book.

The route is unknown to all teams so nobody can drive it in advance to familiarize themselves. The bulletin had all the details about each RT: the time and place to start and the necessary average speed. To make things even more interesting, one RT could include several speed limits and the endpoint of the RT is not clear (though clues were present in the road book).

There are different methods to measure a team’s speed on the regularity tests. One is the use of transponders which we had in the car and that sent signals to receivers hidden at the end of each RT or in different places along the route.

How did we know we were driving at the right speed and how could we maintain it? Important questions to have answers to if we, as novice competitors, were to stand any chance of succeeding.

Experienced drivers had a device called a tripmaster to help them. We had an app that was supposed to help us maintain the speed and a very complicated-looking table that was supposed to be followed by an experienced co-driver, which I wasn’t, so I didn’t use it.

Once the briefing was finished and we found out the start time, we realized we had to calculate the start time for each RT and the length of each segment to make our life easier on the road (as I said earlier, it helped to be good at math). After that, we identified 2–3 cars that were due to start in front of us.

At 12:55 we waited nervously in line for our start at 12:58. Getting too early or too late at the start and blocking another team’s start would cost 300 penalty points which would be disastrous.

Since we’d had the road book for 3 hours, I already knew the first page by heart: start, turn left, drive straight, turn right, enter the roundabout, take the first exit…. Knowing that helped ease my nerves and we collected our first stamp and got to the first RT a few minutes before our start where other teams were already there waiting for their start. So far, so good.

The first regularity tests (RT) started at 13:45 and we had to drive around 6km with an average speed of 48km/h according to our morning’s calculation. However, something went wrong here as we finished this segment with 88.1 penalty points. Considering the experienced teams had only 0.1 penalty points, our lack of expertise was showing. On the other hand, there were also teams with over 130 penalty points, so in context, we weren’t doing terribly.

The second RT was a little better with only 21.2 penalty points. Considering the difficult road segment, the other teams that we had to overtake, increasing our speed, not to mention the regular traffic, made us doubt our strategy. At that point, we had the second-best result of the segment, which made us really proud. However, after a recalculation, we ended up with 38.8 penalty points.

The third stage was our worst on the first day. I’m not sure if it was the road segment going up, the changing speed limits, or something we missed in the road book but we ended up with a massive 177.9 penalty points. Ouch!

Before the coffee break, there was one more special stage to tackle and by now we were anxious to see what the next kilometers would bring. Going through Transylvanian villages at 43km/h was not as easy as you might think. Narrow roads, ongoing traffic, parked cars, and delivery vans can complicate things in any condition, let alone when you are on the clock. We finished the segment with 59.2 penalty points and stopped for a break in Orlat at the beautiful Maria Theresa Mansion.

After 103km already done and 30 left to do we were going back to Sibiu with no range anxiety and no technical issues.

The last RT of the day was partly on a road that we’d driven a few times before, from Păltiniș to Rășinari, towns we’d visited for winter skiing.

We followed the road book, the RT specifications, the changing speed limits and did pretty well with only 11.3 penalty points at the end of the day, a top 5 result for this segment.

Going back to Piața Mică (small square) we left Elektra to charge at one of the stations provided by sponsors. We had around 10 AC plugs and one DC station available. One very ingenious mobile station with 3 charge points was powered by solar panels.

We waited for the results with a well-deserved cold beer. At the end of the day, we were ranked 7th with a total of 357.7 penalty points. The first 3 positions had 134.9 / 167.2 /171.5 penalty points. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the team in the first position was selected to compete in the E-Rally Regularity Cup while the team in the 3rd position competed in the European Rally Championship. Each team had won this competition before.

The second day took us up to Bâlea Lac on Transfăgărășan, the greatest driving road in the world according to Top Gear, but also one of the busiest in summer.

To avoid heavy traffic we had to start early, with the first car leaving at 07:00. Our start was at 07:58. In the meantime, we had to pick up the bulletin with the instructions for each new RT and the time control sheet. The first page of the first leg was the same as the day before, so we were a bit more relaxed, but once the familiarity was gone the butterflies were back.

Before reaching the fabulous views of Transfăgărășan we had to pass our first RT. This one was a bit tricky as the road book mentioned segments with a 15km/h speed limit while the average was supposed to be 43km/h. It turned out that either our calculation or our strategy was wrong as this was the segment with the most penalty points for us: 197.9. Yikes!

Penalties, though, were not on our minds at that point. We were enjoying the ride and excited to get to Transfăgărășan for the first time with our EV. We’d been there before driving ICE vehicles but the curiosity, the assumed range anxiety of going uphill for a considerable amount of kilometers, along with the views made us excited and nervous at the same time. We were not disappointed.

On the last RT we were convinced we knew what to do. All our tools were ready, the road was clear, the start was smooth and everything was under control. Or at least this is what we thought up until the last U-turn of the special segment where we interrupted the breakfast walk for a frustratingly slow flock of sheep. Our average speed dropped dramatically just 15–20 meters before the road sign that marked the end of the RT. The sign was there in plain sight but we were unable to move as we had to wait for our wooly friends to cross the curvy road. Alas, 59.3 penalty points sealed the deal and we ranked 12 out of 18 teams in our first regularity rally.

To close the day we had to get back to Sibiu in 100 minutes. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the road and take some pictures.

I think I know why Transfăgărășan is part of the Transylvania Classic route for EVs: It’s how they make sure you’ll be back! The views are breathtaking going uphill the joy of regenerative braking going down makes the descent all the more enjoyable.

In contrast to what you have just read, the Transylvania Classic 2021 was not about ranking or penalty points but about the experience, the fun roads, the rules, and e-mobility altogether. I’m thrilled to see events like this bring e-mobility closer to the public and raise awareness.

In 2017, the first year when EVs were invited to the event, only 3 teams were present. This year, there were 18 teams out there, proving once again that #thefutureiselectric and that range anxiety can be a thing of the past with the right technology and the right actors to get behind it.

'till we meet again… (source: Transylvania Classic)