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.
Autotest events are open to drivers over the age of 16 and those without a full RTA licence are limited to a saloon car of not more than 1400cc.
Autotesting is one of the most inexpensive motorsports available, standard road cars can be used and double drives are allowed, so car sharing can reduce the travelling costs to and from the events.
Most drivers start out competing at club level and then move onto a Regional Championship, before stepping up to the MSA British Autotest Championship.
Events will normally have three or four test sites laid out and drivers will have four or five runs at each test, with all times counting. The overall winner of an event is the driver with the lowest accumulative time over a fixed number of tests. Awards are also available for the fastest time in each class, so whatever you drive you have a good chance of doing well in an event and of course doing well in the championship.

The Classes

There are five classes in the MSA British Autotest Championship as follows:
(A) Saloons under 11ft overall length.
(B) Saloons over 11ft overall length.
(C) Sports Cars and Sports Kit Cars.
(D) Specials.
(E) Road Going Series Production Cars.
Class E - All Saloons and Sports Cars produced in quantities of not less than 1000 over a 12 month period.  All vehicles in this class must be capable of being driven on the road, must be taxed with a valid MoT (if applicable), documents to be produced at signing on.
('Saloons' will include estate cars, hatchbacks and commercial types as appropriate as well as saloon type Kit Cars.  Cabriolets will run in the appropriate classes depending on whether the top is raised or lowered.  Overall length of the vehicle will include bumpers whether fitted or not).

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

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.
Once you have all the hardware the annual cost of doing the MSA British Autotest Championship could average out as little as £120 per event or £1300 for the season. That's about £25 per week! Obviously if you live in Lands End or John O'Groats the travelling costs will be a little higher, but Autotesting is great fun and help is always on hand for those who need it, so come on and give it a go.

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.