16 Tips for DiRT Rally to Get Faster Stage Times

16 Tips for DiRT Rally to Get Faster Stage Times

Codemasters DiRT Rally is a simulated rally racing experience. It’s far more challenging than most track racing games because of its varying surface terrain, narrow roads, and realistic driving physics.

To put up the best times in DiRT Rally it requires some sound rally racing techniques that often seem counter-intuitive to your natural driving tendencies.

But racing games are racing games right?…

Not in the case of a simulated rally racing game like DiRT!

The driving basics are the same: steering wheel for left and right, throttle for gas, brake to slow down, and the clutch to shift…but that’s where the similarities end.

For instance, when playing DiRT Rally you will need to do a lot of steering with both the throttle and the brake (sometimes simultaneously), use the brake pedal to make the car slide, and if you’re using a racing setup with a wheel and pedal set you should use a left foot braking technique. Unlike track racing you might only step on the clutch once or twice during an entire stage.

So today I am going to break down the techniques used to create faster stage times in Dirt Rally and guide you on how to unlearn everything you thought you knew about racing!

Many of these tips from real rally car drivers are applicable to any rally game like WRC5 or Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo, but mastering them in those games will be far less challenging. All in all though…

“The way you drive in rally games is far different than you drive traditional track racing games”
First let’s start with the co-driver…

1. Understanding Your Co-Driver to Predict the Road Ahead

Dirt codriver

DiRT Rally uses the 1-6 system, where the co-driver calls “1” it indicates a slow corner and “6” indicates a fast one.

The corner direction gets called first like “Left Three into Right Five” and sometimes more detail is included like “hairpin”, “square”, or “acute”. Between the corners your co-driver will offer insight about distances by saying “into” and “and” to indicate short distances.


The corner numbers were established for taking the corners using as much of the road as possible with account for the racing line and stage obstacles. Memorizing this chart will do you a lot of good when trying to get faster times in DiRT Rally.

Understanding DiRT Rally Co Driver

You of course can run your race without the co-driver, but you certainly will have to take it a bit easier when you have low visibility coming over a hill. Your best bet for fast times is to keep your co-driver on and learn the language because it will offer you more insight into what’s coming around the bend.

For more insight on the route notes you can get more info on the CodeMasters Blog and a nice infographic here.

2. Getting Your Settings Right

If you are using a gamepad or a wheel the below settings are good baseline no matter your console. Try these and adjust as you need…

Best Gamepad Settings for DiRT Rally

Dirt Rally GamePad Settings

Best Racing Wheel Settings for DiRT Rally

Your degrees of rotation DOR may vary depending on the wheel you own. So far I have found the most enjoyable racing at 330 degress of rotation.Most modern Rally cars use 540, so if you are going for sim…try that if your wheel aloows it.

You can also leave your wheel at it’s max setting 900 / 1080 degrees and turn “soft lock” ON. This will make the degrees of rotation match the actual car you’re driving in-game… and offer a more simulated experience.

Dirt Rally Vibration and feedback

If you want to make adjustments I would suggest raising or lowering the force feedback to your prefernce, leaving the wheel strength at 100, and chosing a wheel weight between 30 and 50.

Preferences

For the Preferences use Manual H Pattern and clutch…learning to drive manual will by much faster than automatic gearing.

Dirt Rally preferences

Also if you have a Th8A shifter like I do adding the Ricmotech short shift mod will significantly reduce your shift times.


When it comes to the other assists…cars will naturally be faster with assists off, but you should choose what works best for you. I understand not everybody is comfortable with no assists on.

Advanced Wheel Settings

aws

If you find that you are locking up the wheels to much when you brake, then lower brake saturation down to about 70. I have a load cell brake in my pedals and it takes a lot for me to lock up.

There is more great info on wheel settings for particular racing wheels at the Codemasters forum.

You can also see our best recommendations for a Dirt Rally wheel on PS4 here or Xbox One here. The wheel settings above though should be applicable to almost all the wheels available for the game.

To get the most out of DiRT Rally, the best thing to do is apply real rally racing techniques. So lets get into it…

Understanding Rally Driving Basics and Applying them to DiRT

The video below discusses many of the rally driving basics with some and tips and tricks that I will cover more in depth in the article below.

3. In Rally Racing Drifting isn’t For Fun, It’s Required…

Subaru_Finland_Slide_01_A

Drifting which creates sliding friction (dynamic friction) is what separates rally racing from track racing which requires static friction (gripping friction). Driving fast on snow, gravel, mud, and dirt is much different than a race track where your tires can stick to the road.


Here is the difference from a braking perspective between asphalt and gravel:

When you jam on the brakes on either surface the cars weight shifts towards the font of the vehicle…

On asphalt (gripping fiction): You want to brake as hard as possible (threshold braking in a straight line) and not lock the brakes. Here you are using static friction; using the tires to grip and maintain control of your direction.

On gravel (static friction): It’s best to send the car sideways, feather the brakes (quick press on and off) and use the sidewalls of the tires as part of your braking force. This is because gravel does not provide much traction. This technique allows you to use the tires in 2 directions at the same time and mis-align your rear tires so that they can try to grab a bit of clean surface.

Here is a good technique for initiating a slide for a left hand turn in a FWD car:

Rally drifting technique

One of the keys in the technique depicted above is keeping your foot on the throttle while you feather brake simultaneously…Ill speak more on that below in the section about left foot braking and driving FWD cars. For RWD cars the technique requires more finesse with the throttle.

4. Understanding the Parts of a Turn

apexFirst let’s cover the 3 parts of a turn: The Turn in, the apex, and the turn exit. As you can see here, the Apex is the high point of the turn.

On both track and rally course the principles are the same. Your goal is to create the lowest possible slip angle with maximum traction and position yourself for a fast turn exit. A well executed mid-apex racing line is fast and effective, but there is some room for improvement.

The Late Apex

Late ApexTypically the late apex is faster than catching the mid apex because it allows you to get your car straighter faster. The key to catching the late Apex is it also requires a slightly later turn in.

In the right-hander you see here, you would slide your vehicle through this turn on any surface other than asphalt. In either approach of turn it is best to come in under control and have all your braking and shifting done prior to turn in.


Here is the difference between track racing and rally driving:

On asphalt: You take a wide approach to the corner, identify the apex and turn in smoothly, start applying throttle when you hit the apex (or preferably the late apex).

On gravel: You take a wide approach to the corner, identify the apex, turn in to the apex initiating a slide, cutting your wheel back, and applying throttle to “push” the car forward through the path of the racing line.

Here you can see the different turn in points for a hair pin. Notice what happens when you turn in too early….YIKES!

Racing Line For Apex

How to “Push” through a Turn

Pushing through a turn is all about using your cars horsepower to drive through a slide. Watch the video below of a real rally car “Pushing” through the turn.

Notice his front tires pointed straight ahead and you can hear him using the throttle to “push” the car.

Whats crazy is the car is not even going that fast through the turn. The slide is so deliberate and executed perfectly!

There are 3 reasons why you want to slide through turns in DiRt Rally:

  1. Using the sidewalls of the tires to increase your friction surface
  2. On a low traction surface surface a sliding car is easier to control than a grippier car
  3. To use your engines horsepower to push your way through the apex of the turn in a forward direction. This is particularly true for All-Wheel Drive cars.

5. Weight Balance Is the Key to Fast Rally Racing

Understanding how to shift the weight of the car between the front and rear axles is imperative to putting up competitive stage times. When you are drifting on a gravel, snow, or dirt surface your steering inputs aren’t as responsive as they are on asphalt.

So how do you overcome that?

By transferring the weight of the car from one end to the other which has a huge impact on the direction the car will spin. By using the throttle and the brake you can increase traction on any given tire. This what I referred to earlier as steering with the throttle and the brake.


“Steering inputs are critical, but balancing the car through a slide is essential”
Here is an example…

Shifting Weight to Tighten Your Racing Line

When you are mid slide and you want to clean up your racing line your natural reaction is to turn your wheels into the corner (but remember steering inputs aren’t as responsive on low traction surfaces).

The best thing to do is keep your front tires pointed straight ahead relative to the car, apply less throttle and simultaneously jab the brake. Weight will transfer forward, the vehicle will turn in, and you will slow down, slide a bit, and clean up your line.

Shifting Weight to Open Your Racing Line

If you want to pull off the racing line and open it up a bit then ease on the throttle and pull off of the brake. This will send the weight of the car to the rear which will straighten the car out, and open up your racing line.

6. Putting the Techniques Together for a Sweeper

Left hand sweeper

In this example, this is how you would take a long sweeping left-hander:

Your corner approach is fast and wide

    1. Turn the wheel in slightly to the left towards the apex
    2. Stab the brake pedal (this will shift the cars weight to the front and initiate a left hand slide)

Once you are sliding:

    1. Lift off the brake pedal
    2. Cut the wheel to the right so your wheels are pushing towards the apex
    3. Keep steady pressure on the throttle to maintain a long drift

If you are getting too wide:

    1. Lift off the throttle a bit and brush the brake pedal (shift weight to the front)
    2. Once you tighten the line, ease off the brake and apply steady throttle

Clean corner exit:

  1. Get on the throttle
  2. Straighten the wheel

When this is done correctly you can hit a corner fast, slide through it, and essentially exit the corner at the same speed you entered it in. As you can see there was not many steering inputs.

The technique described above is great for a mid to long length corner, but could quickly turn to trouble with a tight hair pin.

7. Managing a Tight Corner

With a hairpin, you have to fight your natural urge to turn in hard which will result in understeer…even the handbrake isn’t always the best idea.


The best technique is to do a “pendulum” turn technique also called a Scandinavian Flick.

The “Pendulum” Turn Technique for Hairpin’s

In this technique you initiate a slide opposite the corner and then snap it back into a slide in the correct direction. This shift in momentum will create inertia to whip the rear end of your car around for a tight turn.

Scandinavian Flick

In this example, we will cover a tight right hand turn:

Approach the corner fast and on the inside (leave enough room to snap the rear end towards the inside)

    1. Cut the wheel left (Away from the corner) and tap the brake to initiate the drift. (This will cut down on your speed and can replace normal braking)

Reversing the momentum

    1. Cut the wheel back to the right (toward the corner) and jab the throttle. (This will transfer the weight to the rear tires and cause the car to snap around to the right)

Once you are sliding

    1. Straighten the wheel as the car whips right and use the throttle to maintain the drift.
    2. Use the throttle and brake to steer the car (tighten or open your racing line)

Clean Corner Exit

  1. When you have cleared the corner jump back on the throttle and straighten your tires on the track

“Using the sweeping turn technique and the “pendulum” turn technique in combination through a series of turns can really do wonders for your stage times”
Learn to link your corners together and you will be a DiRT Rally master.

8. Good Techniques For Front Wheel Drive Hairpin Turns

In this video you can get some good tips and techniques for tacking hairpin turns in FWD cars. This guy uses the handbrake much more than I do, but his technique is VERY effective.

The first 5 minutes shows him racing and then at 5:05 on the video he breaks down the technique.

Here are some of the techniques discussed in the video for FWD hair pin turn:

    1. Brake first, then down shift
    2. Initiate a Scandinavian Flick

Start the slide

    1. Turn into hair pin and tap the ebrake to iniate the slide

Once the slide starts

    1. Apply throttle

Turn Exit

  1. When you clear the corner, straighten the car and power out

If you are in a slide and the back end of the car is not rotating around fast enough, try taping the E-brake. For some turns its worth it just to hold the E-brake all the way through the turn, just so you can control the car.


For combo “s” turns, keeping the car under control is far better than flat out speed.

9. Drifting with Rear Wheel Drive Rally Cars

All the turn techniques described above are extremely effective for both FWD and AWD cars. While these techniques do work on RWD, the throttle must be handled MUCH more sensitively. RWD cars spin out when excessive throttle is used and once you have crossed the threshold of weight imbalance it’s hard to get the car under control.

“Typically RWD is much slower on gravel and definitely something you may want to consider when choosing your vehicle for a particular track”
For RWD the handbrake isn’t a bad option for turning, but it should only be used to break traction. It does send the car into slide, but the downside is it doesn’t do much in the way of weight transfer which makes it a bit unpredictable. If you find yourself approaching a hairpin turn with insufficient speed and not enough room to try a “pendulum” technique, tap the handbrake.

Its easier to initiate a drift in a rear wheel drive car if you take care of all your braking pre-turn and then initiating a slide. This will help you hold the racing line, avoid understeer, and keep the car under control.

This is what your driving inputs would like like for a RWD slide to the left:

How to Drift RWD cars

This video does a nice job of showing some nice RWD slides and the gamepad inputs that create them.

 

10. The Throttle is not an On/Off Switch

People treat the throttle like it’s an on/off switch, like there are not varying degrees of throttle you can apply. On a turn exit, you need to ensure that your tires are pointing straight ahead on the road, before you unleash full throttle (especially in RWD cars).

Between the power surge and the terrain on a rally stage surface your car can shimmy quite a bit and lose you valuable time. Take your time and ease on the throttle, remember rally surfaces don’t have a lot of traction. Sometimes feathering throttle (quick tapping) is best to get you under control and accelerating.

“If your tires are spinning and your back and is shimmying then you are not moving fast.

11. When to Use the Handbrake

Rally HandbrakeMost people love the idea of ripping the handbrake around every turn. The truth is though in real life it doesn’t do much in the way of weight transfer particularly in RWD cars.

It can also be extremely unpredictable…think of the handbrake like a blunt tool.

The handbrake can be great to initiate a slide. For a FWD car you can tap it or even hold it through a slide, but for a RWD car it is better to tap the handbrake just to break traction on the rear wheels.

The handbrake is particularly effective in a slow turn to help rotate the rear end of the car around faster, but a left foot braking technique will produce more predictable results.

For players using a gamepad you may find that the handbrake is effective simply because it is more accessible and it certainly has it’s place in the right situations like FWD rally cars.

For players using a racing wheel on PS4 or Xbox One, the handbrake is a button on the wheel rims center column, which means you may be trying to cut the wheel and push a button at the same time, which is difficult.

Note that in most AWD cars when you pull the handbrake it locks all four tires (not just the rears).

12. The Left Foot Braking Technique

This applies mostly to folks playing with a racing wheel, but the concept still applies to those playing with a gamepad.

“Left foot braking will shave time of your laps and allow you to play your throttle and brake pedals off of each other for managing your weight balance”
When your car is in a drift the pedals become more like airplane rudders as opposed to gas and brake. If you are using a clutch, occasionally you will need to slide your left foot over for a shift. The more time you can use your foot for left foot braking and off of the clutch, the better off you will be.

Left Foot Braking and FWD

Once you grasp handbrakes and left foot braking, there is something AWESOME you can do with FWD cars. Left foot braking can be used in lieu of the handbrake and even better it shifts the weight of the car in a more predictable manner. This accomplished by applying throttle and brake simultaneously.


This technique keeps your front wheels spinning because the engine will overpower the brakes and the car will slow or lock the rear tires. Doing this when entering a corner where you want to slide around it, you can turn in and then apply the throttle and brakes at the same time.

This will transfer the cars weight to the front and result in a more stable slide than using the handbrake. Essentially now you are using the brake to control the speed difference between your front and rear tires.

When executed correctly you can make a FWD spin around on a dime. This is also the reason that when driving FWD rally cars you shouldn’t experience oversteer. With certain FWD cars you can keep the throttle on the floor and apply the brake according to how tight you need to corner.

13. The Corner Before a Long Straight Is the Most Important

Wales Map DiRt Rally

A rally course has tons of corners of varying degrees and difficulty, but the most important one to nail is the one prior to a straight patch of road. In rally racing you dont get a lot of long straights like in track racing. Sometimes turns graded “5” and “6” is about as straight as the stage will get and its filled with crests, bumps and jumps in addition to dips and water splashes.

Here is where it is very beneficial to pay attention to your co-driver. He is always reporting 100 meters ahead and will let you know dont cut or run wide on the turn exit.

If you have some straight away coming perfecting the the turn before it will help you maximize your speed down the straight. Even if you botch a series of corners, make sure you nail the last corner in the series.

It’s a good to understand the stage maps prior to taking on a race. It’s best to take mental notes on where the long straights are located so you enter them with perfect turning technique and smooth turn exits. Honestly though nothing will ever beat practice and familiarity.

14. Controlling a Jump

DiRT Rally Jump

Jumps in DiRT Rally are not some fist pumping moment where you can celebrate getting all 4 tires off the ground. A lot jumps have turns at their landing points and you better be prepared to get the car back under control.

The hardest thing about jumps is most cars want to fly nose down. If you slowdown and hit the brake on the take-off you will most certainly land on the nose of the car.

The key to a jump is to accelerate at the launch. The best way approach even for big jumps is to jab the brake and then get back on the throttle prior to the launch point. This will make the car jump with its nose in the air.

Ideally you also want to land with each wheel at a different fraction of a second. Very hard to control in DiRT Rally though. The idea here is that you will get less off a power bounce off of your shocks.

15. Effectively Managing Puddles

Dirt Rally Puddle Technique

Hitting the water incorrectly can certainly end your hopes of a fast time and maybe even your race all together. Similar to the the Jump technique discussed above you will want the nose of the car up and to go in as fast as possible in order to power through it.

The best way to do that is right before a puddle brush the brakes and get the car nose up and then accelerate on your last patch of dirt before puddle entry.

“For the fastest way through a puddle, think medium splash and car nose up”

16. Quick Tip on Tuning

While I am not much of a tuner. I got this trick from Stella Stig in his DiRT Rally Review. Some of the cars seem to be extremely heavy on the front brake bias, which would shift to much weight to the front end of the car when you press the brakes.

Before you start a race see where the brake bias is set in your vehicle setup. It can be pretty beneficial to knock the front brake bias down a little bit.

Dirt Rally Adjusting brake bias

I dont do this for every car, but sometimes after I get a feel for how the car is handling.

Other DiRT Rally Racing Resources

Virtual Throttle| Dirt Rally Videos

Codemasters Forum

Rally Sport Ontario

DiRT Rally Wiki Page

DiRT Rally On Reddit

Unlearning Your Track Racing Game Habits

Let’s recap a few of the major key points for mastering DiRT Rally and achieving faster stage times:

      – Sliding is effective for both turning and braking

 

      – Steer with the throttle and brake to control slides

 

      – Keep your left foot on the brake to play it off the throttle like an airplane rudder

 

      – For FWD cars simultaneous use of throttle and brake is more stable than the handbrake

 

      – The Corner before a long straight is imporant to ace

 

      – Accelerate through jumps to keep the nose of the car up

 

      – Accelerate through puddles and keep the nose of the car up

 

    – Try lowering your front brake bias if its default is set really high

Hopefully this article will prove useful for speeding up your DiRT Rally stage times. Nothing beats practice and concentration though since some these stages take 8 to 9 minutes to complete. Playing DiRT with a racing wheel and pedal set is a bit easier and much more fun in my opinion. If you are curious about a racing wheel for DIRT, check out our best suggestions here.

DiRT Rally Related Products at Amazon

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.


8 Comments

  • Martin Murphy says:

    Hi There
    Thanks for a good comprehensive article.
    My question to you if you can assist is exactly which button is the handbrake on Dirt Rally using a PS4 with a Logitech G29 wheel??
    Many thanks Martin

    • James says:

      Hey Martin,

      Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment. For the G29 you can go into the controller settings menu and see what all of the default settings are. From there you can make any button the handbrake that you want. I have mine set to the circle button, because it’s the closest one to the steering wheel rim with my right hand. Using a wheel and having a handbrake button has it’s challenges though.

      There are other alternatives though that some people have used like setting the handbrake as the clutch pedal, setting one of the paddle shifters as the clutch pedal (makes more sense if you own the shifter), or using the shifter as a handbrake.

      Hope that is helpful,
      -James

  • Rich says:

    Thanks for the great article! After playing Dirt on my G29 wheel for only a few hours, it’s clear in needed some tip, really well written, helpful article 🙂

    • James says:

      Hey Rich,

      Thanks for checking out the blog. I am glad you found the tips useful. The G29 is a great wheel, hope you are having fun with it!

      Best,
      James

  • Josh says:

    Thanks for all the tips. I was really good using the regular controller, and then bought the T150 wheel yesterday. The difference between the wheel and controller is crazy. But now that I read your helpful article, I will be getting better and better starting today when I get to play again. Thanks man!

    • James says:

      Hey Josh,

      Im so happy for you. getting a racing wheel is a big step into a larger world. You will never want to playing racing games with a controller again.

      -James

  • Ben says:

    Wow thanks alot for that article, really helpfull!

    I was wondering about one thing though.
    You said the Pendulum technique is especially effictive for AWD and FWD. If you drive RWD however (I’m mostly driving the BMW M3), do you still prefer Pendulum and only use handbrake when there is definitely not enough room for a Scandinavian flick ?
    Basically asking if a Pendulum is always faster than a handbrake turn if you can manage it.

    Oh and also, if you go into a handbrake turn (I’m driving Clutch with H-Pattern) should I shift gear before handbraking or handbrake before shifting ?

    -Regards Ben

    • James says:

      Hey Ben,

      Sorry for the delayed response I don’t know how I missed your comment in my que.

      If there is not enough room for a pendulum technique, I would probably rely on accelerating into the turn, taking a wide approach, cutting the wheel in to the turn and then popping the handbrake. This should kick out the back end of a RWD car and help power you through the turn.

      I also tend to handle all of my shifting before I pop the handbrake, Once the handbrake is engaged, all of my focus is on balancing the car through the turn.

      -James

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