What is an Autocross?
An Autocross is a race against the clock (as opposed to wheel-to-wheel) around a unique course defined by cones or pylons, usually taking place on airport runways, parking lots, or any large paved area.
As an entry-level form of motorsport that focuses on driver skill and car control, almost any passenger car can be entered into competition. All that is required to enter an event is a valid driver’s license. Entry fees are also the lowest of any motorsport, making it a great discipline to get started.
Like rally racing, competitors stage their vehicles before the timer starting sensor, and attempt to navigate the course in the shortest amount of time. There is usually a single line around the course, which is denoted by a combination of stand-up cones as well as lay-down or ‘pointer’ cones. Unlike rally racing, courses are unique and designed to be used one-time during an event.
The average autocross course is approximately 60 seconds in length for most vehicles, and a 2 second time penalty is assessed for each stand-up cone that is knocked over or moved outside of a marked box. Pointer cones are not assessed a time penalty, however they are always placed in a manner that signifies a more serious navigation error if they are displaced.
If the driver drives around the incorrect side of a cone, they are deemed to have driven off-course and are scored a ‘did not finish’ (DNF) instead of an official run time. Times with penalties or a DNF are commonly referred to as a ‘scratch’ time.
Courses are designed so that the vehicles are limited to lower speeds, requiring only a legal helmet and basic restraints for driver protection. Most vehicles spend the majority of the time on course in 2nd gear.
In autocross, a greater importance is placed on the suspension and handling characteristics of the vehicle instead of on power output. This is due to the fact that there are seldom any ‘straights’ in autocross, and the vehicle is constantly turning. The frequency of driver inputs is quite high, requiring 1 input per second on average. This is contrasted with road-racing, where several seconds can pass before a driver input is required.
To provide a competitive playing field, vehicles are classified into classes, commonly under the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) classing rules. Car classes cover a broad range, from factory ‘stock’ classes to ‘modified’ classes containing purpose-built race cars that are not street legal.
For safety reasons, usually no more than 2 or 3 cars are allowed on the course at a time.
After racing in a heat, drivers will fulfill a number of work positions ranging from resetting and reporting on cones hit on course, to running event timing, announcing, or ensuring that all people entering the event site have signed an insurance liability waiver.
In order to compare vehicles across classes when running in local races, an indexing value called PAX.
Up to 2 drivers can officially enter in a single vehicle in the same heat. These are commonly referred to as ‘co - driver’ vehicles, and are sent around the course twice as often as the single-driver vehicles, with the 2 drivers switching in-between runs.