I own a small assortment of stage rally tires that I use on my Prepared FWD class Sentra SE-R at SCCA RallyCross events, and sometimes competitors ask me where they can buy some for their cars. My answer is usually, “Do you have a minute?”
Who Should Read This?
The RallyCross Stock category only allows DOT street tires, so the conversation comes to a full stop at snow tires if you compete in Stock. Unless your region runs a rare hybrid paved/unpaved course or a weirdly abrasive surface, your best bet in Stock is a set of snow tires in good condition. They have soft tread and chunky tread blocks that work well in this sport, and you can buy them from almost any tire vendor. This article mainly applies to Prepared and Modified category drivers.
Why Stage Rally Tires?
Snow tires work great on any RallyCross car, and may be quicker than some gravel rally tire tread patterns in cold, grassy, or soggy conditions. However, stepping up to dedicated rally tires can benefit you in a few ways. In my opinion, the most valuable feature is reinforced sidewalls. Stiffer sidewalls prevent punctures in stage rally, but they also help prevent de-beads in SCCA RallyCross. Snow tires tend to have soft sidewalls that contribute to tire deflection in hard cornering. The other major plus is that rally tires can be purchased in different compounds and tread designs to maximize grip for varying temperatures and conditions.
- The most popular diameter is 15 inches. Stage rally is populated by a lot of Subarus and similar, and the size of choice is what gets stocked and sold. Rally is a small market, and SCCA RallyCross is but a subset of that. The next most common sizes are 14-inch and 16-inch. Others are available if you search really, really hard.
- Downsizing wheels is allowed in Prepared and Modified, along with alternate brakes. If you have a modification path that allows the switch to a more common tire size, do it.
- Rally tires are generally not cheap or the easiest to find. I know that’s a bit of sting, but the market for these tires isn’t substantial compared to even autocross tires. Most of these get imported from overseas by the container load and sold within the rally community. They are very seasonal in demand, and suit a very specific purpose. It can be difficult for a large outfit like Tire Rack to justify keeping a wide inventory of rally tires if they can’t move them.
- Retreads are a thing, but they’re not as bad as you imagine. Retreads are common in the commercial truck industry, and they are also a way to get cheaper rally rubber. Brands like Black Rocket, Indy Sport, and MaxSport take used tire carcasses and mold new rally tread to the outside. Some models not have as much sidewall stiffness as competing new rally tires, though. It varies by model and size, so ask around and test.
Where You Can Actually Find Rally Tires
Here are a few places that have carried tires recently:
- DMack Tyre USA
- Rocky Mountain Autosports
- Susquehanna MotorSports
- Team Illuminata
- Overseas (such as Demon Tweeks UK).
- Used. Kind of hard to find, but stage rallyists sometimes shed used tires.
Explaining Type and Compound
- Gravel rally: the all-purpose tire. What most of us use at upper-level events. Some manufacturers give tread grooving guidance (using heated knife) to optimize for different surfaces, but a lot of us just run ‘em as they come.
- Mud rally: use in the soupy, sloppy, or wet/grassy stuff only. Tend to be soft and knobby, so watch out for wear on hard surfaces or hot days. They may not be as fast as gravel rally tires in drying conditions.
- Tarmac/asphalt rally: probably not applicable for most of our events. Similar to a sports car racing tire, but often reinforced for the rigors of paved staged rally.
- Ice rally: some are studded, some aren’t. Studs aren’t legal for all levels of RallyCross and may not help much unless there is, you know, ice on the ground. Some wintry tires with soft compound and large tread lugs may be worth trying in muddy or snowy conditions over a regular snow tire. Ask around and test.
- Soft/medium/hard compounds: many manufacturers list the optimal ambient temperature range for each compound offered. Hot, hard-packed surfaces (especially for the Southern competitors) can chew up soft compounds and snow tires. A medium or even a hard-compound rally tire may be the ticket at the Summer extremes. Otherwise, most softs work decently well for grassy, wetter, and/or temperate events.
You finally have the rally tires on your door step. What’s next?
- First, stiffer sidewalls can make them a hassle to mount and bead. I’ve not had much issue with my 14-inch tires at local shops, but some rally brands/sizes are reportedly “difficult.” Make sure your tire installer has a cool demeanor. Tips and beer make nice gifts.
- You can run lower pressures than snow tires thanks to the stiffer sidewalls. If you’re used to running 50 PSI in your snow tire, try 30 PSI or lower. Test and experiment for optimal grip.
- Rally tires won’t make you magically faster. They’re an incremental upgrade with enhanced durability and surface-matching ability. Think of them as one more tool in your driving arsenal, not the killer app. Seat time still rules.