What is Autotesting?
The art of autotesting is the
ability to follow a defined route around a set of markers, with stop astride
lines and changes of direction, necessitating the use of forward and reverse
gears. All this is against the clock, so maintaining the momentum to minimise
time loss during the manoeuvres is essential.
There are five classes in the
MSA British Autotest Championship as follows:
The most competitive cars for autotests are Minis in Class A, Novas in Class B, sports cars and the Specials, which can be chopped down Minis or some very neat homemade specials. So starting out it is probably better to try the Road Going Production Car class, where a lot can be learnt from working out the best line to take when you have less room to manoeuvre, performing a test quickly in a larger car can be very satisfying and is a great confidence booster. Later on when you may wish to move to a more competitive class you will be amazed how much more space you have to complete the various moves required for a quick time.
The tests generally last no longer than a minute and involve using only first or reverse gears, although 30mph or so may not seem very fast in the tight confines of an autotest course and with a few handbrake turns and other changes of direction it can be a real adrenaline rush.
The courses are usually laid out with traffic cones and the defined route as laid out by the organisers must be followed, striking a cone or failing to stop astride a line will result in a time penalty of 5 or 10 seconds for each offence. Taking the wrong route will result in a maximum time penalty which is the fastest time in class + 30 seconds or + 20 seconds on some events.
So time is very limited, which means that you will need to memorise the course, you are permitted to walk the test beforehand so this is your chance to pick out the best lines for you to get your car around the course as quickly as possible. A typical test diagram is shown below, the solid lines show forward movement of the car and the broken lines are carried out in reverse gear. Stop astride lines must only be crossed by the centre line of the axle in the direction of travel as shown by the diagram.
What will it Cost?
Autotesting is inexpensive,
entry fees for MSA rounds are around £30 to £35 per event, Championship
registration will set you back £20.00, an MSA Competition Licence £27
and you will need to be a member of a motor club. As mentioned above you
can use your standard road car to get started or if you use a specially
modified car, you will need to invest in a trailer and tow car if you
don't have a suitable car for towing. On event fuel is minimal 10 litres
should see you through the day and you will need to replace the tyres
after a few events.
Tricks of the Trade
Autotesting is classified as a low speed high skill motorsport, first of all you will need a good memory to remember the course, you could be the worlds fastest driver, but if you cannot remember which way to turn and have to check the route, then you will drop a fistful of time. Some drivers breakdown the test into sections, if you have got a slalom just remember which side you start that section and the rest should follow and then remember where you have to exit that part of the test and go onto the next manoeuvre. Everyone has their own ways of doing it so find a way that suits you.
The handbrake turn is probably the most used trick to reduce the turning circle and to flick the car around to change direction, add to that a swift change from first to reverse the results can be a very fluid movement with no visible loss of momentum. All this takes time and practice, as does the set up of the car, getting the tyre pressures right so that you can get the car to slide sufficiently, but also maintaining maximum traction when required.
The skills learnt in autotesting will serve you well for the rest of your driving life, whether that is normal road driving or moving onto to a higher level of motorsport. Trevor Smith went on from British Autotest Champion to become a National Stage Rally Champion and Colin McRae was a Regional Autotest Champion at the age of 16. When a rally driver makes a mistake such as an overshoot, it is the autotesting skill which kicks in and gets them back on the right track with the minimum time loss.
It is unlikely that you will become an MSA British Autotest Champion overnight, but if you do, then maybe you could be the next Colin McRae. But one thing is for sure that you will join a group of the friendliest motorsport competitors in the UK.