As we mentioned in our last driving post, Great Race teams spend some time between races practicing and fine-tuning their speed charts. A new speed chart must be done every time you make a drivetrain or braking change because horsepower, stopping distance, transmission, steering and differential ratios are all going to affect how fast you accelerate, stop and negotiate a turn. Using this speed chart is most effective when the race teams are given their morning instructions for the day. Notations are highlighted for speed changes and their duration as well as any last minute course changes that were given to the race teams that morning. This would include unexpected road construction, washed out areas due to overnight rain, or a change in route due to snow, fire, high winds, or other natural disaster. After instructions have been received, each morning starts with a speedometer calibration check on the way to the starting line. A measured mile is provided and the teams check their speed against the stopwatch to ensure its accuracy. Small adjustments can be made on the speedometer if necessary, and this arises occasionally with changes in tire pressure (circumference of the tire determines electronic signal to the speedometer) or other additional mechanical factors.
The navigator is responsible for making notations on their directions that reflect how their vehicle performs in each of the instructions. These are likely red flags for the navigator where special attention must be paid. If, for instance, the instructions indicate a 35 mph left hand turn, the navigator knows from the speed chart that it should take the driver 2.5 seconds to slow down and 4.0 seconds to get back to 35 mph. Using the stopwatch, the navigator starts at the point when the driver starts braking and then stops the stopwatch when the driver tells them they are at 35 mph again. If all goes well and there are no vehicles at the intersection, they should have completed this turn in 6.5 seconds. Anything faster and slower than that is noted in their instruction sheets and they can then use several tools to correct their error. The initial urge is to fly like hell and make up the few seconds they might be behind, but the preferred way is to make up lost time by increasing the speeds in the next few instructions by 10 or 20% to make up the time smoothly and gradually. In the case of where the task was performed too quickly, there is also a reference on the speed chart for ½ speed, which can be used to slow the car down for a period of time to get back on perfect time. These are match calculations that must be done by the navigator without the aid of any tools other than paper and pen.
Another unexpected danger is the race’s timing loops out on the course. As the teams get later into a timing loop, there is less time to make up their error. Sometimes there is no time and they take a penalty for that scoring loop, but it is important to remember that each loop is scored separately and once complete, it does you no good to continue to make up or shave off time. You have to start again from the time that was recorded as you rolled through the scoring loop and work from there. This was a fatal error I made when I drove for one day during a previous Great Race. I passed 10 or 15 cars at ridiculous speeds to get back into my starting position from that morning, so I effectively screwed up the timing loop where we were late, and the next timing loop where we ended up very, very, early because we lost focus on the overall task.
The navigator is constantly giving the driver commands as to the next instruction or variance of the course. Because each entrant in the race starts in the morning one minute apart from the team in front or behind, and these teams continue to run around each other all day, it can be very disconcerting when you catch up to the car in front of you or the car behind you catches up to you. Somebody is wrong, and you have to be confident that it is not you, but the other team. Rally masters are known for throwing in some tricks into the instructions as well. Turns are occasionally onto unnamed streets, “left at the cattle gate” or “35 seconds beyond the overpass turn right” and there are also instructions where you end up going in the opposite direction of other rally cars, which will really play with your psyche, only to discover there is a corn maze or neighborhood loop in the instructions up ahead.
Local traffic can be another problem. Other cars, tractors, horse carts, and trains can all impede your ability to maintain the instructed speeds. With other vehicles, there is not much you can do about it. Other obstacles, if they are a major impediment, such as down train gate or a slow moving hay wagon, can ruin your whole day as well as a few cars before and after you. In this case, the navigator can file a time allowance request at the end of the day where they document the occurrence, location, and how long it delayed them. These allowance requests, when approved by the rally master will be used to adjust your official electronic scoring at the end of the day. Approval of these allowances are usually not a major problem, because there is a good chance that several cars ahead of you and behind you will also be filing an allowance request.
If your car breaks down for say a flat tire or overheating, you are not out of the race, but the race team has to be able to fix the car themselves. The navigator can track with the stopwatch how long you were off the instructions while you make repairs, and can then re-calculate the remaining instructions in the scoring loop to adjust for the time lost. If another competitor has an issue and you pass by him, you may soon see him flying past you further down the road to make his time back up. If you cannot repair your car, then you have to endure the “wait of shame” where you stay with your car while all of the other drivers pass by. Once the last racer has past, the sweep truck picks you up and takes you to the day’s dinner stop, so that you can make repairs. Teams who break down are assessed a penalty for the uncompleted timing loops for that day but they can fix their car and race again once repairs are completed. The repairs and maintenance taking place in the hotel parking lots each night are one of the things I like the best about Great Racing. Teams help each other fix broken race cars, trade parts, hold flashlights, bench race and there is the occasional adult beverage while all this takes place. It is quite a spectacle for people who live near the host destinations each night as well, especially if they are unable to get to the finish line at the conclusion of the race day.