Everything you ever wanted to know about: rally notes

Edited and Updated May, 2013

tulip rally note route iconBlind Rally: Rallies in the US evolved a little differently then rally in Europe. Starting out as all night TSD’s (time speed distance) or brisk rallies, rally in the US did not typically run reconnaissance. This means that the rallymaster would give the co-driver a route book with major navigation instructions and some of the more extreme things to watch out for. Example: “BRIDGE – TURN RIGHT ON SNAPPY ROAD – CAUTION HAIRPIN” Next to this would be a little diagram (on right) showing the direction of the road or obstacle. Sometimes called ‘tulips’, the name is believed to come from the Tulip Rally of the Netherlands that originally used them.

European rallies were also blind without recce’ for many, many years. It is believed that reconnaissance started some time in the 70s. The RAC remained blind for many years after all other rallies allowed recce’. European rallies started with the Monte Carlo in 1911 as an advertising gimmick to get rich people, i.e. those that owned cars to come together or rally, in Monte Carlo and stay in hotel rooms that were vacant in February. The object was to start from different cities across the continent and maintain a given speed while going to Monte Carlo. As cars became more capable, the speeds got too high to be safe and special stages had to be developed. In the 1970’s US rallies started to offer Special Stages and soon a distinction was made between Time Speed Distance rallies and Performance rallies. Rallies without reconnaissance are considered “blind”.

Route Book: The route book was the standard that the US had been rallying with for many years. The route book tells you about obstacles, cautions, difficult or deceptive turns, and how to get there. As created by the rally master of the rally, route books often vary wildly from rally to rally. Some rally masters choose to include as much information as possible, some find it more challenging to include as little as possible. Cautions and turns are often marked differently as well. A double caution (!!) in one rally may mean something like “slow down for this,” whereas at another rally it may mean “brake hard and watch out as you will destroy your car.” With a route book the co-driver is not calling every turn, so there is a lot of times where the driver is driving it how he sees it. As in – driving it blind. You will always receive a route book of some type when you compete in a rally, even if it’s just transit directions, often bound in the same physical ‘book’.

Stage Notes: Stage notes are generally accepted as “notes made by a computer” and rallies in the US would not see stage notes until the 21st century. A company in Sweden called Jemba (owned by Arne Johansson) had perfected a system that would allow a car with a very accurate odometer (coralba tripmeter), laptop, GPS, and accelerometer (measures G-Force) to generate detailed “European style” notes, marking every corner, crest and obstacle on the route with numerical or descriptive notations. Example: “! R3/Cr/rox into smCr 50″ In order to do this you would have to run the car with the system down the stages several times at a steady pace. There is still some human intervention needed to mark exposures, large obstacles, cautions, bridges, etc.

Stage notes (sometimes called Jemba notes) attempt to call out every corner on the stage and give details as to the roads direction, camber and character. It does not however tell you how to drive those corners. For example: “L5> R5 kinks 70″ describes a road that has a slight chicane. If the road is wide enough a rally driver should attempt to run straight through them and avoid turning (slowing down) as much as possible. The subtle difference between how the road is described and how you would drive it, separates stage notes from pace notes. Even so, once rallies began using stage notes, their stage records were shattered by drivers taking full advantage of this new system. Stage notes are often an additional financial burden to the organizers. P-Sport (owned by Pete Lahm) is the only organization known to offer Jemba stage notes in the US. Rally America currently specifies in their rule book that only one vendor will be used for their national championship’s season stage notes. Regional events may utilize organizer supplied notes.

Understanding Co-Drivers for Noobs

Gibeault Notes: In 2007 Kristopher Marciniak suggested to Michel Hoche-Mong (Engineer / Rally Driver / Organizer) that with off-the-shelf technology a new stage notes making system could be derived. After days of tinkering with accelerometers, GPS, and video – the idea was pitched to Mike Gibeault (Seriously smart engineer / California Rally Series / Rallydata.com). Mike suggested that getting data from just the steering wheel, in a car driven in the middle of the road at a steady speed, coupled with mileage and other data sources – you could get very accurate stage notes. Two rallies were first mapped by Mike & Paula Gibeault; North Nevada in 2008 and High Desert Trails in 2009. With these first successful tests the process was refined further with input from national winning co-drivers and drivers. Chrissie Beavis added the critical element of national level co-driving experience that was instrumental in developing the details of the algorithms as well as determining how to compress the computer data (which in raw form has too much information) down to what is salient for a given sequence. It wasn’t long before organizers in the Southwest switched to Gibeault Stage Notes for a quarter of the cost with equal (or better) consistency. In 2011 The High Desert Trails AND The Prescott Rally both ran Gibeault Stage Notes with no reconnaissance – a true test of a blind rally with organizer supplied stage notes.

By comparison, Gibeault Stage Notes are quite similar to Jemba in the degree of turn, distance, and description. It is very easy to use them if you’ve ever driven with Jemba notes. Where as the development of Jemba seems to have stalled out, Gibeault Notes continue to crystallize and sharpen complex sequences of corners with better algorithms, better descriptions, and an updated glossary.

As a competitor, you are usually not required by the rally to have (purchase) stage notes. They are generally included in the cost of entry or offered for an additional cost between $100 – $175 with the understanding that anything wrong in the stage notes is solely your problem. Rally America finally dropped its limitations on new drivers and co-drivers from purchasing stage notes. NASA Rally Sport has had no limitations on stage note providers or new driver stage note restrictions.

Pacenotes: Pace notes are created during reconnaissance (recce`). Reconnaissance is what most European and all WRC drivers and co-drivers use to create notes, specifically pacenotes. Unlike Jemba, there is no set standard between teams. Some prefer calling the direction of the turn after the tightness, some use a descriptive method – there are many styles. It is solely up to a driver and co-driver to determine what works for them. The team drive the road several times and notate each corner, obstacle, caution, and mark down (what they perceive to be) the fastest way through the stage. Here in the US, reconnaissance is sometimes offered along with stage notes as a way to further sharpen the notes into something you would drive and not just a description of the road. There is a significant inherent cost to teams running a full reconnaissance that include additional days off, hotel, gas, and other travel expenses.

Combinations of notes: Several combinations have been offered in the last few years by rally organizers in the US. Route Book with the option to buy Stage Notes has been the most common after 2002, but Route Book ONLY was the standard for 30+ years. Reconnaissance has been offered with stage notes and a shorter format called “One Pass Recce`” where you must have purchased the stage notes, and you will only make one recce` pass down each stage. This lightens some of the burdens of running a full reconnaissance. Reconnaissance has been offered instead of stage notes because of the high cost incurred by the organizer. This is due in part by the decline in rally participation (less entries to pay for it), and the increasing cost of the stage notes from a single vendor. Organizer supplied notes have been tried with some controversy. These are notes made by a professional driver or co-driver (not a computer or algorithmic method) that are then printed up and offered to the competitors. This isn’t always successful – as in Olympus 2006.

EDITORIAL – By Kristopher Marciniak

SWRT Subaru Rally WRCThe Nintendo Generation: The internet allowed media and games from WRC and European rallies to flow into the US in the late 1990’s. I myself was following WRC long before I even knew there was an SCCA rally 100 miles from my home in New Hampshire. The images and ideas of rally – specifically the co-drivers rattling off hundreds of instructions while the daring drivers made heroic efforts to shave micro-seconds off their stage times – were forever burned into our brain. Anything less then this amazing driver and co-driver interaction wasn’t going to cut it. This may help to explain why competitors that have been competing in rally in the US for many years don’t understand why newer competitors demand stage notes and recce`. Remember the SCCA didn’t start using stage notes until 2002.

Where do we go from here? 2013 Cost continues to dictate what rallies offer. Accurate and consistent stage notes from suppliers like the Gibeaults are making it once again affordable. Some rallies are still seeing less then 20 competitors and thus dropping stage notes. This makes a lot of competitors stay away and reduces the event to an unsustainable amount of entries. “Reconnaissance only” in some cases is cheaper then the cost of notes for the organizer and has shown to bring out the competitors that would normally run stage notes. Unfortunately the inherent cost of recce` to the competitors is a lot higher then $100 – $175 stage notes, so this is also not an ideal situation. Going back to running route book only is not even an option any more. I believe that small regional events do not require recce` to be successful. I think that a balance of events that have stage notes with and without recce` should continue.