Rocky Mountain Rally returns to the valley

The Rocky Mountain Rally will be returning again this year

The Rocky Mountain Rally will be returning to the valley again this year. Four classes of off-road race cars will blast through the rugged forest roads on Friday, October 31st and Saturday, November 1st; and the sport is spectator-friendly.

“You’re not far from the action,” said event manager Juanita Hemstra. “You can get close to these vehicles and covered in dust.”

Although there’s minimal fencing — the opposite to Formula One style racing — the rally team is safety conscious, she added.

After the valley was used as the venue for the first time last fall, it wasn’t set in stone that the Rocky Mountain Rally would return. But, as a result of last year’s turnout in addition to driver enjoyment and smooth co-operation with Canfor, provincial forestry services and the District of Invermere, the racers will be competing in the valley again. Hemstra said the routes will be very similar to last year’s, but likely with an additional stage and some slight modifications.

“We’re looking for a combination of smooth, but challenging roads,” said event chair John Blaber. “(To accommodate spectators) we look for areas where the drivers can get their speed up, but then also take some really tight, technical corners.”

Last year, vehicles couldn’t be pushed to their limits because the roads were new to all of the racers, he said. With the experience gained from last year, Blaber is expecting greater competition this time around.

“This year, we’ll find the top teams will probably be using their notes from last year, with minor updates,” he predicted.

The event begins on Friday morning, when the streets of downtown Invermere will be flooded with rally cars before the ceremonial start. This will give the valley a chance to get an up-close look at all the competing vehicles. And the drivers love to chat about the sport, said Blaber.

Races will take place along backroads from Radium Hot Springs down to Canal Flats. There’s no fee to watch, just check the website — — closer to the event to find out where to go.

The website is also the starting point for volunteers, who are needed to make the event run successfully. An enticing goodie bag will be put together for anybody who can help out over the weekend.

This year’s rally will be even bigger than the 2013 event, said Blaber, when “we created a fair amount of noise within the rally world.”

The competing cars will look much like standard road cars, but with safety features taken to the extreme. Roll cages must be fitted, seating has to be replaced with proper race seats, and the driver and passenger must wear race overalls and be held into their seats with full race harnesses instead of the standard seat belt. Also, the vehicle needs protection underneath to protect it from rough terrain.

Rally cars with increased horsepower can enter the open class, while vehicles with standard features are suited for production class.

The grand finale happens on Saturday evening with a podium finish and champagne spray for the winners.