2005 Sandblast Rally

Codriving at the Sandblast 2005 Rally, by co-driver Matthew Bafford (ydant)

(Anders' note: We ran as the opening car, 'Car Zero', in this event and needed to have a licensed Ham radio operator.
Matthew was willing and able and jumped into the seat having never been to a rally before!)

From N00b to Codriving

Like most of you, I've seen the WRC on TV and I had a good idea of what goes into driving a rally. I understood the basic relationship between the driver and the codriver, but there was a lot that was a mystery. For one thing, while I understood that the codriver was reading something that basically described the road ahead, the little bits I had heard on the WRC basically sounded like gibberish. In fact, a lot of it was gibberish - most of the teams don't speak English.

It should be obvious, then, that I was a bit nervous about the whole ordeal - at least until I met up with Anders and Amy. Before the event Anders sent me a couple of links that helped clear up a lot of the confusion. Amy then finished it up with a one-on-one tutorial that lasted pretty late into the night.

So keep in mind what I'm saying here is coming from the point of view of a newly unn00bed n00b. I've learned all of this through Amy's expert instruction and Ander's corrections, so I've likely got a lot of this wrong. I learned a lot of fascinating (to me, anyway) stuff over those two days, and I think there might be others on the board who are interested.

What exactly does the codriver do

In my case, my role was pretty straightforward - I was to read transit and stage notes to Anders while he drove through the course at around 7/10ths. Our job was to check the course one last time before the first car went through. We were making sure all baricades were appropriately marked, no pedestrians/cars/cows were on the course, and that there were no serious ommissions in the stage notes. It was necessary for the codriver to be a ham radio operator in case of emergency and to let control know where opening car was at all times.

Had we been actually competing my job would have been more difficult. For example, I would have had to keep up with timing so that we didn't arrive at any control points too early or too late - either of which would have resulted in a time penalty. As far as other functions of the codriver, I'm not sure.

What are Transit/Stage/Pace notes?

There are three different types of notes involved in the rally - I was only dealing with the first two.

Transit Notes

Transit notes are what we used to get to the stages and to service. These use a combination of mileage (from the start) and tulips to describe the segments.

Tulips are basically simplified line drawings of the turn or action. For an example, see here:

That image is actually from a stage - I'll try to scan in a real transit page when I get the books back.

Between stages it was my job to watch the rally computer's mileage and alert the driver as to any upcoming turns.

Stage Notes

Stage notes were provided by the rally organizers and described the stage that we would be driving. Stage notes do not describe the speed at which particular corners can be taken - they are limited only to the conditions of the road - how tight turns are, where crests/jumps are, corners that can not be cut (ditches, rocks), and possible caution areas (muddy, slippy).

The stage notes took two forms for this rally - the tulip format (see the image above), and the descriptive/numeric format. Where the tulip format is vague and describes caution areas only, the descriptive/numeric format goes into great detail about the road. Tulips require the codriver to pay close attention to the rally computer and pay attention to mileage - just as with transit notes. The descriptive, on the other hand, matches the road very closely - as long as you watch the road it's easy enough to follow along.

Something I find fascinating is that the stage notes are actually computer
generated by the Jemba system. A car with this equipped can drive the stage and then the notes are provided.

An entire description of the Jemba system for stage notes is outlined here:

http://linaracing.com.previewdns.com/stage-notes.cfm
http://hem.passagen.se/jemba/notesUSA.htm

Here's a sample from an Oregon rally:

That would get read as:

Quote:

  • Right six over crest
  • Left five CAUTION Right two long
  • two hundred
  • Left four plus into right three plus seventy caution right five minus
  • left one fifty
  • left six into right three 50 CAUTION
  • right five tightens four minus
  • left four
  • right five plus short fifty
  • right five minus
  • right six seventy

Timing is difficult to explain - it took Anders and I 2-3 stages before the timing was even close to right. You could tell we were getting more comfortable with each other as time went on, though.

Pace Notes

Pace notes are in addition to stage notes, and these are generated by the actual team. In order to produce these, the driver and codriver first drive through the course taking notes about the course for the codriver to read back to the driver.

We did not use pace notes at all.

I _think_ a rally where the drivers are not allowed to create pace notes is known as a "blind rally".

Special Time With Amy

I have to thank Amy for all of the time she spent helping me get ready for
Saturday. I started the session with her more than a little nervous, and I
finished totally ready for the next day. She's amazing, and I am convinced she has infinite patience. I know I was tired of hearing myself confuse < for widens and pronounce 250 as two-hundred-fifty (that should be opens and two-fifty).

My time with her first involved an accelerated (We don't like the word crash - we're not teaching him to make us crash! -Anders) course in transit and stage notes.

The rest of the time was spent marking the book up for the next day so I could easily do my job. This involved hilighting the cautions, adding tabs to the beginning of each stage/transit, and folding over every other pInage for easier turning.

In addition to our time learning me the ropes, I owe Amy more than money could possibly repay for having food available when we showed up for the afternoon service. While meals were provided by the organizers, we arrived late and nobody had saved us anything. It's obvious from their setup that this sort of thing has happened to them before.

Thanks

I just want to add special thanks to all of the ham radio operators who came out and volunteered. Most of the guys out there were just local people who didn't necessarily have an interest in the rally - they were just doing what hams do. Without them the rally couldn't have happened, and I thank them for that.

Also all of the other volunteers. Almost everyone out there was a volunteer in some way or another, and they are the reason the really went so well. Thanks guys!

Anders, for letting me codrive for you. I would LOVE to do so again any time.

Interesting Tidbits

Special Stage

(I hope I don't butcher this) The term special stage comes from the fact that rallying originally was all TSD (time/speed/distance) where each stage had to be completed in a certain amount of time. Eventually another stage (the Special Stage) was added where the time goal was impossible - basically this stage was a an opportunity for the drivers to drive balls out. All of the stages in these rallies are now like that, and thus are called Special Stage #.

Yump

Jump = yump. It's just something rally has inherited from the Swedes (I think). I tried to pronounce jump as yump, but it's hard to do with a straight face. Yump's also a little easier to say at speed.

The radio

Apparently the microphone got keyed on for all of one stage. So everyone with a radio for about 50 miles around was hearing everything I said mixed in with acceleration noises. It gets bumpy in that there rally ka and the microphone just bounced and got wedged against my leg. Ooops.

The ride/the seat/queasy

I've never been one to be sensitive to stiff springs or bumpy rides, so the ride felt fine to me. The seat was an absolute dream - once I got used to it being just a tad bit tight. If I had eaten a heavy breakfast it might have been tight Saturday. Driving with a harness and tight bolstering is wonderful, though.

Nope, I didn't get the least bit queasy. I used to read while riding ALL the time, though.

The interesting thing is riding and codriving are NOTHING alike. I was so focused on reading the notes that I really didn't notice a lot of the rally. I certainly didn't notice much of the car sliding around and whatnot. I felt it, sure, but it was pushed far down into the subconcious. I was WAY focused on the road and the notes.

Confusion

Except for one case on one of the stages, I got more confused on the transits than I did on course. In one case I was reading the wrong transit notes... We ended up leaving some nice handbreak turns in the sand...

I did totally freeze up on one part of one stage. And the rally computer didn't help much. It's EASY to follow the turns by watching the road - taking Anders's reading of the road and the rally computer's mileage and locating your spot in the stage notes is AMAZINGLY difficult. Luckily we had a left 2 (90 degree) not too long after to help me find my spot. It turned out later that Amy had the same problem in about the same spot when she first codrove that stage.

Cliff Notes:

Rally is cool!