Autotests are all about car control. The challenge is to negotiate as quickly as possible a memorised, low-speed course without hitting any markers.
While you will rarely venture out of first and reverse gears, you will need to get the hang of handbrake turns, J-turns and the like particularly when competing at a national level. Clubs also run simpler autotests which involve no or little reversing and may be an easier place to start. A number of clubs run summer evening autotest series which tend to have simpler tests and can also be a good place to start autotesting.
How do Autotests work?
Drivers compete on courses – usually on tarmac or grass areas such as car parks or smooth fields – marked out by plastic pylons or cones. They tackle a number of tests, with two attempts at each. The driver with the lowest accumulated time is the winner, although penalties are incurred for hitting cones, failing to stop on a line, or for taking the wrong route.
Current WRC driver Andreas Mikkelsen teamed up with TV presenter Vicki-Butler Henderson to have a go at an autotest, watch their exploits here.
So how do I start?
Autotests are incredibly accessible, with numerous events every weekend all over the country. A number of areas run regional championships. With club memberships from £10/year and entry fees from £12 for an evening event and £25 for a full day event, they are a very affordable way of getting involved.
You’ll need to be at least 16 years old to compete. First, go to some events and chat with some of the competitors and organisers, who will be happy to talk you through everything you need to know and answer any questions you may have.
Next, join your local club. Some events run at Clubman level meaning all you need is club membership (the club must be invited to the event for your membership to be eligible, but you can always join the organising club) to compete. Some events, particularly at regional and national level, are run at National B level meaning you'll need a Non-Race National B Competition Licence as well as your club membership. Then, of course, you will need a car…
What kind of car do I need?
Most people start off in their road cars; small hatchbacks have proved popular and competitive in recent years as well as MX5s. When you get to National level, most people use modified special cars.
The MSA championship has seven classes to enable drivers to compete against similar machinery and most other events have class structures too. These are split into saloons, sports cars and modified Specials. They may also be split by engine size and vehicle length as well as front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive.
It’s estimated that, competing with your standard road car, you can complete a season of the MSA British Autotest Championship for as little as £700, while Regional or Club level championships can be even cheaper with club memberships from £10/year and entry fees from £12 for an evening event and £25 for a full day event.
Tyre wear is likely to be experienced on an autotest (particularly a tarmac event) and therefore it is highly recommended to take a spare set of wheels and tyres with you to ensure you can drive home legally afterwards. Tyres must comply with the relevant rules in the MSA Blue Book (the rule book for all disciplines of motorsport). Some people will buy new tyres for events, but others will talk to their local garage/tyre dealership or even negotiate with the local scrapyard to keep costs down.
If Autotests seem a little daunting and you would rather have a go at something simpler to start with, consider AutoSOLOs, which are much the same but don’t require any reversing, generally use simpler course layouts and are only open to standard road cars, which must be driven to and from the event.
What equipment do I need?
Because Autotests are low-speed events you don't need special safety gear such as helmets or overalls, which makes this one of the most readily accessible motor sport disciplines. Whilst they may be low speed, they are still highly competitive and leave thousands of competitors all over the country smiling.
Remember that it is the competitor's responsibility to ensure that their vehicle and equipment comply with both the MSA's General Regulations (detailed in the MSA Competitors' and Officials' Yearbook) and the Supplementary Regulations (SRs) of the event or championship.
If you have any questions about vehicles or equipment you can speak to a member of the MSA Technical Department by calling 01753 765 000.