Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Co-driving is like being the drummer in a rock band. Often forgotten and overlooked, sitting in the shadow of the lead singer, but without a good drummer to keep the beat the whole song falls apart. This analogy not only applies to the pace notes, but actually holds true for the rally as a whole. From the start of the concert [day] when the drummer [co-driver] raises his drumsticks [pillow] over his head and knocks them together yelling "1-2-3-4" [chucks it at his driver's head yelling "Wake up!"] to the end of the event when the drummer has to drag the teetering lead singer out of the afterparty before said singer makes a fool of himself doing drunk karaoke (actually that one's pretty much a direct crossover).

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Put some coffee on, Muriel, it's gonna be a long one. This is a return to the technical posts, a description and explanation of some of the many duties of a co-driver during a rally beyond just reading the pace notes. As always, every co-driver and every team does things a little differently, so this is effectively a generalization. In the previous technical posts we've talked about the prep leading up to the rally, making sure the co-driver bag is ready, and when last we left off in the technical posts we'd made it through recce and were trying to pick up chicks in the hotel bar. So now let's jump ahead nine or ten hours to just after the morning's first pillow-missile has been launched.

It's 8 AM and the start of the rally nears. Expert marksman that you are the pillow hits it's target. You inform your driver that you have one hour before parc exposé opens, two hours until it closes. Parc exposé is the area where all cars are parked before the official start of the rally and where they will leave from one-by-one when the rally officially starts. Parc exposé also doubles as a sort of pre-race car show for the fans, where they can come, look at all the cars, meet the drivers/co-drivers, get autographs, and hear rally stories (part 9 will be full of these). The parc exposé open time signifies the earliest you can bring your car into the area, the closing time is the deadline you must have your car in by.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

You go through the standard morning routine you would have at home. Shower, brush teeth, possibly a shave or a nice trim of the nose hairs, followed by a quick breakfast. If you want to make sure the fans know you're a competitor and not a crew member or fellow fan you put your race suit on now. If you'd rather maintain your comfort and freedom for another couple hours you stick with jeans and bring your suit to change into at exposé. Leave the hotel (don't forget your co-driver bag!) and head to the rally car, be it in the parking lot or the service park. Give it a final check of the essentials: triangles, jack, spill kit, first aid kit, tire iron/impact gun, tools, fluids, etc. This is as much to ensure you can find it all quickly on stage if need be as it is to make sure it's all present and accounted for. Once you've done your final check you get into the car and head to exposé.

Once at expose you'll want to find the notice board and official rally time. The notice board will list any penalties, protests, important information, or last minute changes/corrections to routes. Rally time is the official time all rally clocks are set to, down to the second. Be sure to set your watch (watches) to match, there's nothing worse than getting a minute time penalty because your watch said it's 10:52 but the rally clock said it's 10:51:54. With that settled you want to find the start order. Sometimes there will be someone handing out copies, but if not there should be a copy on the notice board. If you have a smart phone I suggest taking a photo. If not, write it down, or at the very least write down the ten cars ahead of you and five cars behind you. Having done all this you have some time (usually about an hour) to mill around, chat, and obsessively quintuple check your books before the driver's meeting.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Hour's up, time for the driver's meeting. Be sure to bring your stage notes and route book, just in case they announce a route change. Also bring a notepad or some other paper you can write on in case anything important is mentioned that doesn't pertain to routes. If you're lucky the meeting will consist of little more than "Hey, everyone, thanks for coming! Have fun out there and stay safe! Bye!" (This has happened to me precisely once.) After the meeting the front runners will gear up and get in their cars immediately. If you're toward the back of the start order (as you likely would be if you're a novice co-driver) you likely have at least 20 minutes before you need to get in the car. Typically I'll tell Rory to gear up and get in whenever I see anyone among the six cars ahead of us on the start order getting in their cars.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

So, safety gear is on, you're in the car, and you're behind the car listed ahead of you, waiting to start the rally. The car in front of you leaves and you pull up to the first Main Time Control of the rally. Get ready, it's about to get busy. The time control worker will hand you your time card, which will have your start time on the top of it (which should be the minute after the previous car left). Reset the trip computer, stare obsessively at your watch (or an official time clock if you can see one), wait for the minute to change (if using your watch wait for 5-10 seconds after the minute change, just in case your watch is a few seconds fast), and when it does tell your driver to start.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Now at this point you'll be focused on three items, the time card, the transit route book, and the car's trip computer. We mentioned the time card first so we'll start with that. The time card is what you use to schedule your target arrival time at the time controls, and how organizers record your actual start and arrival times. We'll use the above time card from NASA Rally Sport as our base. Your out minute was 10:37, which is what the control worker wrote on the card before handing it to you at the start. On the grey line below that is the amount of time the transit to the start of Stage 1 should take, in this case 15 minutes. So, 10:37 + 0:15 = 10:52. That's your arrival time. Don't write it in the space for the arrival time, that's for rally officials only. If you want to write your arrival time so you aren't obsessively re-calculating it every three minutes (who are we kidding, that's going to happen anyway) you can either write it on a different paper (in your route book for example) or in the grey line where it says "for competitor use." This is the only place on the time card where you're allowed to write anything.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Ok, now for the route book and trip computer. The route book is probably more important than the stage notes themselves, without this you have no way of finding your way to the stages, short of pulling over, waiting for the next rally car, and following it around all day. Typically there are six columns in a route book, as shown above. The first column counts the instructions from control to control. In a good book this will reset at every start/point where mileage is zeroed. I have on occasion encountered books where the first instruction on each page is marked as instruction "1" though, even if said instruction is halfway between controls. Keep an eye out for these books because they are evil and designed to ruin your day. The second column tells the instruction's mileage from the start (the point where you zeroed your trip computer). The third column gives the split/distance from the previous instruction. The fourth gives a graphic representation of the upcoming instruction point, be it some form of intersection, a bridge, a speed limit sign, a control, etc. The fifth gives additional information in text format. For example it may have the name of the crossroad at a junction, or the speed limit for the next segment of the transit (careful, if caught speeding on transit you WILL be penalized), or warn you about any dangers at this instruction. The sixth and final column counts down the remaining distance until the arrival control.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Most rally cars use the Terratrip brand computer, specifically the Terratrip 202 (pictured) or 303. If you've adequately bribed the service crew they will have run the "odometer check" road section and calibrated the computer while you and the driver were out on recce, if not you'll have to do it yourself after recce. Trip computer calibration is complicated and confusing until the dozenth or so time you've done it, but it's critical because A) the route instructions are measured to the 1/100th of a mile while a car's stock odometer/trip only measures to 1/10th of a mile, meaning a stock odo isn't accurate enough, and B) odds are the computer used to make the distances in the route book is a few hundredths or even a few tenths off from the previous rally, calibration of the computer ensures your trip computer matches the odo/computer used to make the notes.

Most computers have two rows of data (as shown) which can be set to suit personal preference. Typically co-drivers will set them up to show overall transit distance up top and split distance below, though I've been in cars where the bottom row was used as a speedometer. If in the typical setup you'll want to reset overall (top) at every Main and Arrival Time Control (you have to hold the reset button on this row for three seconds to zero the trip) and reset the split at every instruction (this button you don't need to hold). A bit tedious, yes, but it helps ensure you don't miss an instruction.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Having paid close attention to your route instructions and trip computer you've directed your driver to the start of the first stage with no mistakes (or at least having recognized mistakes quick enough to tell your driver to turn around before losing too much time). Typically you'll find yourself arriving 5-10 minutes before your arrival time. This isn't a problem, you simply need to sit and wait. The Arrival Time Control (ATC) will have a series of boards marking the control zone. The first is a yellow circle with a stopwatch in it. This is the boundary of the ATC. DO NOT PASS THIS BOARD UNTIL YOUR MINUTE! Whatever minute the controller's clock/watch says when you pass this board is the time they'll write on your time card, so you need to be careful. You'll receive a one minute time penalty for every minute early on check in and 10 seconds for every minute late on check in. Fortunately you're careful and you check in right on time. On your minute you pass the yellow clock board and stop at the red clock board where the ATC worker is standing. He writes your arrival time on the card and hands it back to you. Be sure to zero the trip computer at this point, this is where the route book mileage resets. Note that at this point you are in what is known as a fermé (a lot of French words in rally). Starting now you aren't allowed to open the hood or do any work of any kind on the car, though if you need to open the hood before the start of the first stage you've got a whole 'nother level of problems (unless you're classic car rallying in which case it's business as usual).

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Having been handed back your card at the ATC you move up as cars start the stage, a minute at a time. The car in front of you starts the stage at 10:54 and as soon as he's clear you move up to (but not past) the red board with a flag on it. This board represents the official start line for the stage (about 25 yards beyond the start you'll see a yellow board with three diagonal black lines. This board marks the end of the fermé, once past this point you can work on the car and get assistance from others again). Once again you hand the time card out the window and the Start Control worker writes your official start time on the card, then hands it to you. You now have less than a minute before you finally get to experience the rush of a hot stage. Make sure you go through final safety checks: neck restraint secure, belts tight, helmet buckled, etc. At a larger event there will be a clock with a digital readout counting you down to your start, at smaller events there will be a shouty person using their voice and fingers. Either way you want to let your driver know the time remaining, because the minute before launch is scientifically recognized as the longest minute known to man. I typically tell the driver the time remaining at 30, 15, 10, then count down from 5. "5-4-3-2-1-GO!"

"Stay L/lgCr 100 smCr & L4+n.c.<..." The notes themselves are the part every new co-driver worries about most, but the way a co-driver calls notes is one of the most unique aspects of the job, so it's hard to really give specific advice. "...Cr & L5n.c. lg washout tarmac ruf 100..." The most critical thing to remember starting off is to make sure you're calling notes with enough lead time for the driver to react to your call, but not so far ahead that the driver forgets the call by the time they reach the corner (drivers are like goldfish, ten second memories*). Typically I aim to be 1-2 instructions ahead of the driver.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

"...L4 into R5+short into Cr 120..." You're on the last page now and the finish is less than a minute away. You're approaching the point of one of the most common and potentially dangerous novice mistakes. "...R6+/Cr & Jmp into R6+n.c. into Finish." Lots of new drivers stop reading once they call "Finish," ignoring the instructions that continue all the way to the finish control where you stop and receive your time. Why call those additional corners and straights when you're going to slow to a crawl once across the flying finish? The problem is sometimes the note immediately after the finish is something like "! L4/Cr lg" but because the co-driver didn't call it the driver comes across the line with the foot to the floor. Next thing you know the car is in the woods.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

You remembered to read the notes after the finish and as a result safely make it to the Finish Time Control. Once again you hand the time card out the window and the Finish Control worker writes down the time when you crossed the flying finish. Note THIS ISN'T YOUR ELAPSED STAGE TIME, it's the actual time of day when you crossed the finish. To figure out the elapsed time you need to subtract the start time from the finish time. In the example on our time card starting at 10:55:00 and finishing at 11:06:26.1 means an elapsed time of 11 minutes 26.1 seconds. Sweet, you have your first elapsed time figured out. You get out the route book and start navigating to stage 2 (important note here, the route book mileage returns to zero at the start of the stage not the finish, so if you didn't zero the computer at the ATC then your overall trip will be off and you'll have to rely entirely on splits).

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

So, what time do you arrive at stage 2? That depends which organization is running the show. If you're running NASA (or in Canada), which is the body our time card comes from, you ignore your finish time and look at the stage start time. On the grey line below the start time it lists a stage time. This is the "bogey time" or slowest possible time without accumulating lateness minutes (accumulate too many and you're out of the race). To calculate your arrival time at stage 2 you take your stage 1 start time, add this bogey time, then add the transit time. So on our sample card that's 10:55 + 0:18 + 0:10 = 11:23. There's our arrival time. NASA's method is based on the FIA system and is used to ensure the gap between cars at the start line is always 1 minute and the rally doesn't get spread out.

If, on the other hand, you're racing Rally America the calculation is a bit more direct. Take your FINISH time, chop off the seconds, then add the transit time. So that would mean 11:06 + 10 = 11:16 arrival time. This format is easier to calculate, helps the rally run more quickly, and gives everyone the same amount of time to transit (and, somewhat critically, means if you pass a car on stage they stay behind you, whereas with the NASA system they'll be put back ahead of you at the start of the next stage). On the other hand it can make checking in at the arrival control "interesting." If you finish at 11:06:59 and the next car finishes at 11:08:01 that means you'll be arriving at the next stage at 11:16 and 11:18, now separated by two full minutes instead of one, even though you were only two seconds faster. Conversely if the car ahead of you finished at 11:06:01, even though you finished a full 58 seconds apart, you are now considered on the same minute and will both have to check into the next control at the same time. Are you confused yet?

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Let's ignore Rally America timing for now and return to our NASA arrival time. As we've already figured out our arrival time is 11:23, so once again you use the route book to navigate your driver to the stage. But this time when you get to the stage something is wrong. You've arrived 10 minutes before your check in time but there are a good 20 cars on this side of the ATC board, which shouldn't be possible with 1 minute intervals between cars. The stage is running 10 minutes behind, resulting in a situation I guarantee you'll have to deal with at least once every rally. There's no way you'll get the car to the board by 11:23 but you have to check in on your minute. Solution: you, by proxy, now represent the car. You need to exit the vehicle, go up to the aforementioned yellow board with the stopwatch on it (BUT DO NOT PASS IT! Even on foot passing the yellow board counts as entering the control early and will bring a time penalty), wait for your minute, then walk the card to the control worker for your arrival time. Even though the car hasn't physically passed the yellow board you are officially considered checked into this stage's fermé and once again can't do any work on the car. This is a good time to quickly pray the car doesn't overheat in the next few minutes.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

Because of the delay it's an extra wait between check in and stage start, but finally at 11:36 you enter the stage. Once again you're good on the notes, clear the stage, set a decent time, and it's on to the third and final stage of the opening loop. Lather, rinse, repeat and on to service. Talk with your driver about what, if anything, he wants done to the car and jot down what he says so you can tell the service crew. Calculate your service arrival time the same way you've been doing all the stage ATC times (note, typically you're given a new time card when you check into service but for convenience we're including service as the last item on the sample time card we've been using). Once in service it's your job make sure the driver and crew knows how long they have before you need to be back in the car. This starts with calculating your service out time. On our time card this time is 12:59. The thing to remember is that's not how long you have to finish the service. That's the time you need to be in the car, with gear, and back at the Time Control at the service park exit (which typically with service park traffic will take a couple minutes to get to from your service bay). For safety it's wise to give a 5 minute buffer. So if your out time is 12:59 tell everyone you need to be done and in the car at 12:54. Every 5 minutes or so be sure to announce how much time is left. If your watch has a countdown timer set it at the start of service.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

You leave service on your minute and it's back out to the second loop of stages. Everything's going well until stage 6 when you slide wide on a corner, hit a small rock, and get a flat. First thing to do is check how far you have left in the stage. If possible you want to finish the stage first and change the flat on the next transit. If you do a 5 minute tire change on stage it will set you behind 5 minutes, f you do it on transit at the very worst it will set you behind 50 seconds (10 seconds for every minute late to the next control). On the other hand if you drive on the flat too far and it starts coming apart it could destroy bodywork, brake lines, or even wrap itself around suspension components so thoroughly 20 minutes and an oxyacetylene torch won't get it off. Let your driver know how many miles are left to the finish and ask what he wants to do. Typically anything over 3-5 miles (depending on road condition and speed) is considered too far. Sadly in this case you're 7 miles from the finish.

Next thing to look for in the notes is a good place to pull off. If you see a junction in the next mile of notes tell the driver, if you can't find anything in the next couple miles it's not the end of the world, just go for the best looking bit of road you guys find. Ideally you'll want to be somewhere with good sight lines and enough room for cars to get around you easily. You find a clearing and pull over (make a mark in your notes so you know where to pick things up). First and foremost you need to take an emergency triangle and run back down the road (this triangle seems to primarily be a North American rally rule and may not always apply to European rallying). Place the triangle on the same side of the road as your car. If there's a blind crest leading up to the car put the triangle on the other side of the crest. Bring your pace note book or route book with you and hold up the O.K. sign on the back cover to any passing rally cars.

With the triangle in place it's back to the car. With any luck your driver has a hex nut on the end of the jack so it can be used with the impact gun. If unlucky your arms will be getting a workout. If really unlucky it is also summer. Or raining. Or Sno*Drift. During the tire change one of you still needs to signal to passing cars that you're OK (a thumbs up will suffice). If a crew sees no definitive sign that the people in a stopped car are alright the rules require that the passing car stop to ensure their status. There are few better ways to get another team mad at you than force them into stopping via forgetting to signal them.

Upon finishing the tire change you stow the gear and the junk tire in the trunk. Next up is another one of those common mistakes, GO BACK AND RETRIEVE YOUR #%&$ING TRIANGLE! Drivers slow when they see triangles, doubly so if they don't see a car to go with the triangle (in fact according to Canadian rally rules if you see a triangle but don't see a car you're supposed to stop and look for said car). Once back in the car and belted up it is often considered common courtesy to wait for the next car to pass and rejoin the stage behind him, particularly if the rally is being held in dusty conditions.

You finish the stage, return to service, check out the car, swap in a new spare tire, and head out for the final loop of stages. The final loop goes well and you set three decent stage times, now it's off to the finish line. The time card says you started the final stage at 19:18 (that's 7:18 PM, most rallies run on 24 hour time, not 12 hour time), bogey time for the stage was 20 minutes, and the listed transit time is 40 minutes. Easy calculation, your arrival time is 20:18. You arrive at the control at about 20:00 but there's no sign of any other cars, what's the deal? This final time control is what's known as a Main Time Control (MTC). You can arrive at a MTC at any time before your minute, so long as you tell the control what minute you want written on the card. So you can enter the control at 20:01, tell them 20:18, and they'll write 20:18 on your card. You cannot, however, request a minute that has already passed. So if on the way to the finish you and your driver decided to celebrate your first completed rally by skinnydipping in a local lake on the transit (this does happen), you need to make sure you still get to the control before 20:19 or you will be penalized for being late.

Rally Co-Driving Behind the Scenes, Part 8: A Day As A Co-DriverS

If this was a multi-day rally you need to tell the crew what changes the car needs for tomorrow. You also need to ensure your driver goes to bed at a reasonable hour. Tomorrow you do it all again. If it's a single day rally then congratulations! You made it, something 20-40% of the field can't say! It's now off to the awards dinner for (usually) free food, beer, and heavily embellished stories!

Good job, my friend. Welcome to rally.

*Yes, I know the whole "goldfish have ten second memories" thing is a myth. It is, however, true of drivers.

Photo Credits:
Lead photo - Kappadue Innovazione
Photo 2 - Chris Koerner
Photo 3, 6, 9 - Pete Kuncis
Photo 4 - STPR
Photo 7 - Peter Guagenti
Photo 8 - Jason Clanton