Rally drivers have an impressive capacity for remembering places. But they nevertheless need keywords to help them complete a special stage at a racing speed, because the stages can sometimes be 50 kilometres or longer. And then there are countless bends, hilltops and obstacles that call for greater concentration. So the driver dictates all of this information to his co-driver in the pace notes.
Then, during the rally itself, it’s the other way around: as they fly round the course, the co-driver reads the information back to the driver. The amount of detail in the pace notes varies from driver to driver. Some drivers note even the smallest of details (road signs, trees, rocks), while others only want to know the bare essentials when behind the wheel. There are also different preferences when it comes to estimating bends.
The most common method among German-speaking teams is to use a scale of one (very slow) to six (very fast). The cryptic note “60 R2 150 L4” is then read out as “60 right 2 150 left 4”, which simply means a fairly slow right-hand bend is coming up in 60 metres, followed by fast left-hand bend after 150 metres.
There are navigation systems and maps. And then there’s the roadbook. This is where the rally organiser describes all the routes the drivers should and may use. Everything is precisely described, right down to the approach route to the next special stage from the service park. The roadbook lists details such as precise distances in metres to the next junction, town/city signs and striking waypoints. The individual waypoints are, incidentally, called “Chinese” in German because they vaguely resemble Chinese characters. The roadbook is there to make sure all the teams follow the correct route, and the organisers keep an eye on this using GPS tracking.
Even in this day and age of GPS tracking that’s accurate to the second, the time card is still indispensable. The co-driver uses this little card to calculate their time of arrival at the next time control, and this time is confirmed on the time card by the marshals. At the end of a special stage, a time control marshal then adds the actual time to the card. This makes it possible to quickly pinpoint and rectify any errors in the computer evaluation later on. The time card is incredibly important to the driver and the co-driver, because if you lose it, you’re out of the rally.
If a rally lasts for several days, it’s divided into different stages. For a long time, rally organisers were obliged to adopt a Friday-Saturday-Sunday set-up. But the FIA, the world governing body for motorsport, has relaxed the rules in recent years. As a result, the rally in Monte Carlo gets under way on a Wednesday and consists of four stages, while the Finns host their WRC event over two days/stages and wrap it up with a big party on the Saturday evening. The results at the end of a stage are used to determine the line-up of the WRC teams registered for the next stage.
The World Rally Championship points system is similar to that of Formula 1. The winner is awarded 25 points, followed by 18 points for second place, 15 for third place, etc. The points awarded for positions one to ten are as follows: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1. In addition, since 2012 there has also been the Power Stage. This is a special stage towards the end of a WRC event in which the fastest driver can pick up three bonus points, the second fastest driver receives two bonus points, and the driver finishing third is awarded one bonus point. The manufacturers’ standings are calculated on the basis of the results of the two drivers that each team has to officially register for this category ahead of the rally.
There are various categories of vehicles that compete in the World Rally Championship. The FIA has renamed the different categories for the 2014 season.
Firstly, there are the World Rally Cars (WRC), which factory teams such as Volkswagen Motorsport compete in. In addition to these thoroughbred rally cars, the rules also include more categories which again comprise various subcategories.
RC2: This category comprises three vehicle types, all of which are more or less as fast as each other. Super 2000 vehicles are based on production models and have a naturally aspirated engine with displacement of two litres or a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine (Regional Rally Car RRC) and slightly smaller spoilers than the WRC cars. Four-wheel drive may not be retrofitted. N4 and R4 category vehicles are likewise based on production models, but ones already featuring four-wheel drive and turbocharged engines in the road version (maximum displacement of two litres). Category R5 comprises production models with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine to which less modifications can be made than in RRC cars, but the air restrictor may be two millimeters larger. The authorised bodywork modifications are largely in line with an S2000 car.
The rest of the field comprises front-wheel drive vehicles in the subcategories RC5, RC4 and RC3, predominantly featuring production-based bodywork. The key differences relate to the engines. RC5: A naturally aspirated engine with maximum displacement of two litres, or turbocharged with maximum displacement of 1.4 litres. RC4: A naturally aspirated engine with maximum displacement of two litres. RC3: A naturally aspirated engine with maximum displacement of two litres, a turbocharged petrol engine with maximum displacement of 1.6 litres or a turbocharged diesel engine with maximum displacement of two litres.
A further class is reserved for GT cars (such as Porsche 911).
The top two championships within the World Rally Championship are those for the drivers and the manufacturers. The scoring methods used in these two categories differ.
The drivers are awarded points whenever they finish among the top ten in a WRC event. The co-driver rankings are calculated in the same way. If a driver takes on a new co-driver in the course of the season, it is theoretically possible for the drivers’ and the co-drivers’ championship titles to go to two different teams.
The manufacturers/teams have two options open to them. They can either register as a manufacturer, in which case they are required to compete in all of the WRC events using two World Rally Cars (WRC). In 2014, the registration fee for this is 311,510 euros.
If, on the other hand, they enter as a WRC team, they are obliged to enter at least seven WRC rallies with one or two WRC vehicles. In this case, the registration fee for two vehicles is 43,620 euros.
Either way, the teams are required to stipulate which drivers will score points for them before the rallying gets under way. A new rule for the 2014 season stipulates that the teams need only stipulate their number one driver for at least ten rallies, rather than the entire season, as was previously the case. As before, a team’s second car can driven by different drivers.
When it comes to awarding points in the manufacturers’ championship, only registered drivers are taken into account, and again it is only the top ten of these who count. It is therefore possible for a registered driver to only be ranked 17th overall in a rally, but to be the eighth registered driver to finish and therefore to nevertheless pick up three points for their team.
Championship titles for the drivers, co-drivers and teams are likewise awarded in the WRC2 and WRC3 categories. In both cases, at least seven WRC rallies have to be entered, although only six results at the most are then taken into account.
Only RC2 vehicles may compete in the WRC2 category, and likewise only RC3 vehicles are eligible for the WRC3 category.
Making it to the finish ramp as the winner of a rally isn’t the end of the story. Because after the finish follows the post-event scrutineering, at least for the most successful teams. In international competitions, the technical scrutineers usually muster the cars of the top three finishers in the overall standings and also of the winners in each of the individual categories.
They check the weight, dimensions and shapes of various parts of the vehicles. The scrutineers often know exactly where to look, either because a team’s performance was conspicuous – for example, due to a dramatic increase in pace in the course of a rally – or because they have been tipped off by another team.
And if the scrutineers uncover something that’s not above board, they will notify the rally stewards, who then make a decision regarding penalisation. In most cases, the driver is barred from winning points. And in more serious cases, the driver may also have their racing licence revoked for a set period. If the driver is not responsible for the car technology themselves, for example in the case of a factory car, the factory team is also penalised.
From 2014 season on, the teams will no longer be required to nominate their drivers for the entire season. The manufacturers must register their drivers for at least ten WRC events.
If a team believes a competitor is using unfair means to win, they can lodge a protest. There are, however, very strict formal requirements for this in the World Rally Championship. Many protests are rejected by the rally stewards because deadlines were missed, regulations were not observed or the wrong sender/recipient was stated. In addition, the claimant must punctually pay a protest fee of 1,000 euros.
A letter of protest must specifically define which component of the suspicious vehicle the scrutineers should examine. If this entails the vehicle being dismantled, the claimant is also required to pay an appropriate deposit, which is only reimbursed to the claimant in full if their protest is upheld. If, however, a protest is rejected for whatever reason, the fees paid are lost and the wrongfully accused team is awarded compensation.
On the other hand, an accused team that does not agree with the scrutineers’ decision is entitled to lodge an appeal. But then things can get really expensive – in the World Rally Championship, the fee alone in this case is 12,000 euros.
The first rallies were endurance races on public roads. But when traffic volumes and driving speeds on public roads increased, rallies were moved to closed-off stretches of road. And instead of vehicle reliability, it then became all about speed.
Modern rallying is divided into three categories: the World Rally Championship with classics such as the Rally Monte Carlo, which has been going since 1911, cross-country rallies such as the Dakar, and rallycross, which is something like a circuit race with rally cars. There has been a world championship for manufacturers since 1973, and for drivers too since 1979. The first ever world champion was Björn Waldegaard of Sweden. The only German to have won the title so far is Walter Röhrl (1980 with Fiat, 1982 with Opel).
In the case of rallying for the WRC specifically, the aim is to finish specially closed-off routes (special stages) in the quickest time possible. At the end of the event, a driver’s times are totted up – including any time penalties they may have picked up – and the driver with the quickest overall time is the winner. These are the very pared-down basics of rallying, for anyone who is only just discovering this fascinating motorsport.
This is a rule that allows teams that are forced to abandon a stage due to an accident or a breakdown to still line up for the next day’s leg and be eligible for points, just like the drivers who finish all of the special stages. However, for every special stage that they fail to complete, they are given a time penalty of seven minutes added to the best time driven in their category. If the only special stage they miss is the last stage of that day, they are awarded a time penalty of ten minutes. In addition, Rally 2 does not apply to the last leg of a rally, and the Rally 2 rule is not used at all in the case of, for example, Rally Monte Carlo.
If you make a mess of things here, you’re already out of the running! Before a rally starts, each team is allowed to drive a special stage twice in order to write their pace notes, following the roadbook for details of the course. This is called a recce, which is short for “reconnaissance”. During a recce, the teams are not allowed to drive faster than 30 to 90 km/h, depending on the conditions. However, the driver has to be able to estimate how fast they can drive in the actual event without flying off course – and that’s the fine art of rallying!
The service park is fundamental to every rally and is where all the teams set up their marquees. The team mechanics in the service park have just 15 to 30 minutes (or 45 minutes at the end of a leg) to carry out all the necessary vehicle servicing, including repairing any damage that’s been incurred. Only five mechanics and one engineer are allowed per vehicle. And if a special stage is too far away from the service park, the organiser can also create a “remote service zone”, where the mechanics are given 15 minutes to carry out only limited repairs. Outside of the service park or such a remote service zone, only the driver and co-driver are allowed to work on the vehicle, using only the spare parts and tools they take with them in the car. If they seek any other kind of assistance, the teams are disqualified from scoring any points.
This is the last training session before the start. The drivers can put their vehicles to the test on a shortened special stage, in order to fine-tune their vehicle set-ups.
The WRC Commission has decided to adjust the running order during the WRC events in order to reduce the gaps between the drivers and to make it more exciting for the spectators. Starting in January, the entrants will set off according to their WRC rankings on the first two days of a rally. This was previously the case on the first day only, after which the running order was the rally ranking in reverse order. The overall front-runner therefore has the disadvantage of having to serve as the ‘road sweeper’ each Friday and Saturday, while a fast guest entrant would be the last to set off and would enjoy a clean track, allowing them to make good a lot of time.
For the purposes of better identification, a coloured sticker signifying the different categories will be added to the windscreens of all the vehicles in the WRC, WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC categories, starting from 2014 season on.
The colours used for the different categories are as follows:
Green = WRC
Red = WRC2
Orange = WRC3
Blue = Junior WRC
All the vehicles that are set to line up in a rally first have to undergo technical scrutineering. This involves a vehicle being thoroughly checked by the scrutineers.
The scrutineers’ main responsibility is to check the prescribed safety standards. These stipulate that many of the components, including the driver’s equipment, may only be used for a certain period subsequent to their manufacture. The scrutineers therefore check to make sure that items such as the seat belts, seats, the petrol tank, fire extinguishers, the driver’s suits, underwear, shoes, gloves and helmets bear the FIA test mark and are still approved for use. There are also minor things that are important, such as two seat belt cutters that the drivers/co-drivers can use to free themselves in an emergency.
In the case of turbocharged engines, a check is also carried out to ascertain whether the prescribed air restrictors have the right diameter (e.g. 33 millimetres in the case of World Rally Cars such as the Polo R WRC). In addition, the scrutineers check to see whether there are any specific regulations that apply to the registered car category (e.g. an automatic fire extinguishing system, minimum weight, HANS system). In general, they make sure that a vehicle won’t tarnish the reputation of motorsport, so a battered old jalopy would be rejected, as would indecent or political advertising applied by the entrant.
If a team avails itself of the Rally 2 rule, i.e. restarting in a new leg after failing to finish the previous one, their vehicle has to be examined anew by the scrutineers. The most common reason for a vehicle being prohibited from competing after having had to pull out of a leg due to an accident is damage to its roll cage.
The entrants drive from one special stage to the next on what’s called a liaison section or road section. These sections are usually public roads, so the rally vehicles have to observe road traffic regulations and have their own number plates. The length of a liaison section can vary enormously – it may be just a short hop to the next village or it could be hundreds of kilometres of driving, including on motorways.
The event organiser calculates how long the drivers need for each liaison section long before the rally, setting off along the section at the appropriate time of day in order to note any hold-ups that might occur, such as access traffic, traffic lights, etc. The times that the organisers allow for these sections are generous, so there is no need for the rally entrants to drive at high speeds on public roads.
This is where all the action takes place. Rallies are held in all sorts of places, be it a circuit for spectators in a city centre, along remote gravel tracks in Greece, or a narrow road through the picturesque vineyards along the Moselle. Special stages are cordoned off before the start of a rally in order to make sure that no one but the rally drivers can get onto them. Track marshals are positioned at all the possible access roads and are also responsible for directing the spectators.
Before the first driver sets off, the organiser sends what are known as zero cars around the course in order to check its safety one last time. The special stage is then given clearance and the countdown begins for the first driver at the starting line. The drivers don’t all start at the same time. Instead, they set off individually at set intervals – in the WRC, they set off every one to three minutes. The vehicles therefore don’t engage in neck-and-neck duels like they do on a circuit – your only opponent in a rally is the stopwatch.
The World Rally Car has been the ultimate in rallying since 1997 – no other vehicles have as much sophistication or class. A World Rally Car has to be based on a series production vehicle, but can be retrofitted with four-wheel drive (standard parts stipulated) and turbochargers (likewise standard parts). The technology used in recent years has become more and more exclusive, causing the costs involved to increase. So for the 2011 season, the FIA introduced new rules that pave the way for a second generation of far less expensive but nevertheless spectacular World Rally Cars. The vehicles are now smaller and are powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo engine (previously displacement of two litres) with petrol direct injection that can generates around 300 hp and more than 400 Nm of torque.
The timetable lays out when and where a leg’s special stages, service breaks and regroupings are. All of the times are based on the first vehicle to compete on the course. The visitors therefore know when they need to be where along the course and when they can watch the mechanics working in the service park.
From 2014 season on, the schedules of all the WRC events are being standardised. The starting ceremony will always take place on the Thursday and the final special stage will always be held at approximately 12:00 on the Sunday. In addition, the final stage will always be a Power Stage and must be at least ten kilometres in length.
To keep things running according to the timetable, the event organiser uses time controls. These are usually before a special stage and before or after the service park. The co-drivers use their time cards to see how long they will need for each section of the course and then each calculate their own arrival times. If they miss their estimated times, however, they are hit with time penalties – there are 60 penalty seconds per minute that they are early and ten penalty seconds for each minute that they are late. There is also a limit to the maximum delay allowed (e.g. 15 minutes per leg). These penalty times are added to the overall time for the special stages at the end of the rally. The total of the special stage times and penalty times then determines the winner of the rally.