Rally racing is run through many different organizations. Among them in Canada are CASC-OR and the Canadian Association of Rallysport (CARS).
Reprinted without permission (but with the best of intentions) from CASC-OR - Always check there for the latest info. This info is admittedly old, but it should give you the basics of an understanding of the sport.
This article is intended to provide you with an introduction and overview of Rallying in Ontario; it can be argued that Rallying is actually the oldest form of motorsport. The first competitions between automobiles were held on the public roads of Europe, usually between two cities, with the objective being to get to the destination as fast as possible. Rallying still uses public roads for motorsport, and in performance events the object is still to reach your destination in the shortest possible time.
Part of the romance of rallying, and the reason that the sport continues to this day, is that it explores the unknown; unlike every other motorsport discipline where there is a track, a strip, an oval, or a course delineated with pylons, rallying keeps you guessing - what's over the next hill, or around the next corner, and what will happen after that? Rallying requires a driver and co-driver / navigator, and both sides of the car must function as a cohesive team to be successful. Also unique is that rallying is a four-season motorsport, with major events held all year long.
You may be familiar with scavenger hunts, or 'fun' rallies, where you try to collect a number of items, or perform certain tasks, while following a specific route. Although a pleasant pastime, these events are not really rallying, and they certainly aren't motorsport; consequently, these activities (usually fund-raisers for charities or clubs) do not come under the CASC-OR umbrella.
Serious, competitive rallying can be divided into two types, Navigational, and Performance; and the CASC-OR and Rally Sport Ontario has an involvement with both.
Navigational rallying is the level at which competitors usually enter the sport, and many never leave. There are a number of series held each year, including a Provincial Championship, and the Ontario Road Rally Cup (ORRC).
Performance rallying is much more expensive, and more dangerous but the excitement of open competition at high speed cannot be argued. This is the rallying that you see on television, and there is the Ontario Performance Rally Championship (OPRC), and a National Rally Championship title as well.
Simply put, the objective is precision teamwork. The navigator has been handed a route book (instructions) seconds before leaving the start. Depending upon the particular class and series they're competing in, these instructions can range from quite straight-forward to fiendishly difficult. The navigator must interpret (or even decipher) them, and pass the information to the driver in a timely manner.
Not only will the route book provide information regarding turns to be taken - or ignored - they will include average speeds to be maintained, pauses, and other instructions to be followed. At various unknown sites along the route the team will come across a checkpoint. They stop, are given a sticker showing their time in, and time out, and so the rally continues. Scoring is done at the end of the event, and the team that has most successfully stayed on route, at the specified speeds, will have accumulated the smallest number of time penalties at each checkpoint, and will be declared the winners.
While it might seem that the navigator has the most to do, driving in a navigational rally is quite challenging. Rallies are held mainly on gravel roads, and so if the route book calls for an average speed of 72kp/h in a particular section, you know that you must slow down for every corner to stay out of the ditch. Then you must go faster than 72 for a little bit, to get back up to your correct average speed. Given that most speedometers are only marked in 5kp/h increments, juggling these requirements along with remembering your next instruction, watching out for other road-users, and relaying upcoming intersections to your navigator is quite a challenge to do well.
Car preparation is not required in navigational events, although many teams add auxiliary lights for night-time competition. You can compete in any good condition car or light truck. As you progress from Beginner class events through Novice, Clubman, Intermediate to Expert, you will probably aquire a programmable calculator to make your timing easier; or even a rally computer, which is a highly accurate electronic odometer.
Again, the emphasis is on teamwork, but the objective is different. A performance rally consists of a number of 'stages' (roads closed to non-rally traffic during the event) and 'transits', which are the links connecting the stages.
On the stages, the objective is to get to the other end as quickly as possible. The route book tells you how far you have to go, and details hazards and cautions along the way. The navigator watches the odometer, and calls the cautions to the driver as they are about to come up.
The transits work something like a navigational rally; you have a set period of time to get to the next stage, and are penalized for being late.
Scoring is done at the end of the event, when the times for each stage are totaled, and any earned transit penalties factored in. The fastest overall time is the winner.
Performance rallying is a close cousin to road-racing; acceleration, braking, and traction are the key concerns. There are several different classes, but all require a certain level of car preparation, such as five-point seat belts, racing seats, and a full roll-cage. Because the cars must be road-legal, they can be driven to the event, saving the cost of a trailer; but if the car breaks, or rolls over, there will be a problem getting home again...!
The easiest way is to join a club that has a rally focus. Rally matters in Ontario are sanctioned by Rally Sport Ontario, which is affiliated with Canadian Association of Rallysport, itself an affiliate of ASN Canada FIA. (also see listing of CASC-OR Rally Clubs) You can either jump right into navigational rallying via one of the Mini-Rally or Ralliette series, or get into performance rallying by working at an event or two as a Marshall or other helper. This will allow you to meet the teams, inspect their cars, and watch them compete, all of which will help you develop your own plans.