How is the starting order created?
The starting order of the rally is an interesting beast. Before we look at the how, let's look at the what and why.
What is the starting order?
It is a listing of all the racers, in order, from fastest to slowest.
Ok, fastest to slowest, but WHY?
The reason we want to have the fastest guy start first and slowest last is to give everyone the best shot at having the road to themselves. If each person is just a little bit slower as you go down the list, then the gap between each car will be a minute and a couple seconds at the finish control. This consistent spacing give everyone the least possible amount of dust and the most similar road conditions to the people of similar speed within their class that they are racing.
If you don't catch the person in front of you, and the person behind you doesn't catch you, then the start order has been successful in its goal.
Things the starting order ISN'T
The start order isn't a prize, or a ranking, or a result. It is simply a tool used by the organizers to attempt to create a fair racing environment. It is often massaged to that end, especially in issues of where AWD and 2WD vehicles are placed.
How is the start order created?
There are several iterations of how this takes place.
Step 1 For many of the racers, we have data on how fast they are from previous races. The speed of each racers is boiled down to their relative speeds against the other racers, the sloppy stages are thrown out, and the last three events are averaged. The result is a number called a "speed factor". All of the racers who have speed factors are ranked, and that gives us the initial list we start with.
Step 2 The next group of racers we consider are those who have rallied at some event that is outside our scoring system. We can look at the results of those other rallies, and find a reference point by finding someone else who was racing there that we do have data on. So, we may not know how fast Jimmy is, he's never raced with us. But a couple months ago he raced at some other rally against Scotty, and he almost tied Scotty. We have data on Scotty, so we're going to assign Jimmy the speedfactor that Scotty has, and then insert Jimmy into the start order in that position.
Step 3 The final group of racers are those who haven't raced with us and haven't raced anywhere that we can find a crossover point. Anyone brand new to rallying falls in this pot too. For these racers, we look at the racing experience that they submitted when they registered for this event, and we look at what equipment they have... and we make our best guess. To this end, if you are new, be sure to submit as much information as possible about any competition or high speed experience you have. We now have the first complete draft of the start order.
Step 4 The final step is to look at the start order and make the changes that no numerical algorithm could account for. As a common example, we may have great data that Susie should be starting 18th. Ten rallies worth of stage times put her right there, and the people above her usually beat her and she usually beats the people below her. But guess what... Susie just moved up from a 1.8 liter 2WD car to a 2.0 turbo AWD car, and this is her first race with it. Knowing that, we move her up. Another example would be someone who has a super high speed factor, but hasn't raced in several years and hasn't run this event before. We might move them down. Or if someone has a high speed factor, but it was only from tarmac rallies, and this is a gravel event, that could cause a move too.
Step 5 We then consider any change requests from competitors. These are a valuable source of information, as we may not know the latest results from a recent race, and it may be that someone has new suspension and beat the person they are seeded behind. It may make sense to then move that racer up one slot.
It's important to remember that the start order is never perfect. After all, if there was a way to make perfect start orders, we would know the final results of the rally before we even started. There's always a degree of unpredictability. So keep in mind the WHY of start orders. If you're getting a good shot at racing an empty road, the start order is working.