Gymkhana vs. Autocross
Gymkhana courses typically involve only the use of first and second gear. In other countries, including the United Kingdom and Ireland, reverse gear can also be used. Courses take typically anywhere from 45 seconds up to about a minute and 30 seconds to drive. Gymkhana differs from autocross in a few distinct ways. Autocross is considered a smaller version of a road course with obstacles. In gymkhana, obstacles force the driver back and forth through the course and add slaloms, 180- and 360-degree turns, figure eights, parking boxes and sometimes sand or water hazards.
The relatively small space required for a gymkhana course means it can be set up just about anywhere there's a relatively open area with enough space to run a car -- a large parking lot, industrial zone or even an open field will do.
For Josh Lief, general manager of Virginia International Raceway (VIR), the track's skid pad became a perfect venue for a gymkhana meet when he was approached by Eric Jacobs early in 2009. As a former autocross racer he could see the potential in the sport as a way to attract new racers and new attendees to the raceway. "Gymkhana's been around for quite some time but it's just gaining popularity now," Lief said. "Since racing is what we do, we decided to open the track to the event."
Like most gymkhana courses, the VIR Bosch Oktoberfest event fielded a course comprised of about 15 to 20 cones. Drivers were required to follow a pre-determined course including figure eights, reversals, 360-degree turns and a number of other challenging maneuvers. While courses can change from event to event and venue to venue, the rules do allow for keeping the same course layout for up to a year, unlike autocross, which requires a change every race.
For Lief, gymkhana races present one of the largest challenges in motorsports -- the need for a good mind. "There's a lot of mental skills involved," he said. "You have to have patience to learn the track and you have to have the experience to know what to do where." This mental acuity is combined with driving skills that are drawn from drifting, traditional racing and autocross. Essentially, a driver has to really get to know their car well before they ever hit the course. "All-wheel drive is great for gymkhana," Lief said. "But any car can do it if the driver wants to try it."
There are still a few twists and turns a driver must take before he or she can attack the track. Keep reading to learn about what it takes before a newbie can set tires to the gymkhana pavement.