oldSTAGER No.112
October/November 2008

 

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(Shortest) Route of all Evil

This month the three events which have ruled my life for the last six months – Tour Britannia, the Cloverleaf and the Internet Table-Top Rally Championships – all came to a conclusion so there is much knowledge to share with you.

In the Internet table-top rally championship prominent road rally navigator – Iain Tullie – was crowned as the new champion. The last event in the four round series was notable for several reasons.

One of the novel route cards was called Helicopter. This was an overhead camera view of a marker following the route on an ordnance survey map made into a mini-movie. Plotting from the movie was difficult since the viewing angle was narrow and the speed of the marker the equivalent of about 2000 mph.

Another route card was a sound file of shouted pace notes. Having chosen a route I recorded instructions like “Miss Left” and “Right at T” via a microphone and stored the speech as an mp3 file. I then edited the file to remove the pauses so that the navigation became a continuous stream of instructions, and then overdubbed the noise of a rally car driving through a stage to add realism and complexity.

But these multimedia clues were easy for the hardened table-toppers. The solution was to play the files in something like Windows Media Player and pause them frequently to plot the instructions on a real map. Perfect scores were abundant. I wonder how long it will be before route cards will be distributed this way on real events? Just pop the plot and bash memory card the marshal gives you into your car’s on-board computer to play the audio and visual cues.

*

Another route card reminded me of the uncertainty of navigational methods relying on shortest route. A simple spot height section (once you’d decoded the encrypted instructions into numbers!) had the spots scattered on the map, so the key requirement was to find the shortest route between the dots. On a virtual rally generally any road can be used, so driving through housing estates without fear of even virtual PR complaints is fair game. On a busy map the original solution was longer than necessary and, with a day left to notify alternatives, the ether was hot with emails from desperate competitors claiming extra points for their marginally shorter routes.

The safest (albeit unchallenging) way to avoid ambiguous routes is to use plotting methods which refer to every junction, like tulips or herringbones. If a route card has vagueness like a list of distributed map references then the shortest route may be difficult to plot. No problem but, on real rallies, it will be essential to PR the longer alternatives for the wrong-routers.
Another shortest route discussion occurred on the Tour Britannia. Look at this simple “right at T” tulip which I used several times in the regularity road books. Next to the diagram I pedantically added: “Take the shortest route at the triangle”. Redundant information said a colleague. Not so, I countered. On a night rally a few years ago a route card used the same tulip; I took the shortest route and missed a PC on the long side of the loop. The organisers argued that since the longer route was shown it had to be used – end of story, go figure.

*

The new style regularity “stages” on the Tour Britannia worked well – eventually. Crews had to travel from the start to the flying finish with a speed change on the way. The single timing point was secret and timed by breaking an electronic beam. On the first day at Bruntingthorpe several competitors were taking an unnatural interest in the chicane near the end of the test before they started. I soon realised that the remote timing equipment was just visible from the start line and since the distance to the chicane was noted in the road book it was easy to compute the target time to the beam. I met with the timekeepers and thereafter we used increasingly devious means to foil competitors. Straw bales made good camouflage, and in Swynnerton dummy equipment soon had crews mistakenly easing off or accelerating after seeing the first beam. What we didn’t account for was a hungry cow in a field on the Arbury test which munched its way through barrier tape concealing the timing wire.

*

Finally, one matter to briefly report from the Cloverleaf. We piloted a results system where remote crews entered time card details via an Internet browser on laptops connected to USB modems. The penalties were calculated in real-time so that up-to-date results were available to the world throughout the day. More detail when I have time.
here are General Regulations (GRs) from the MSA, Supplementary Regulations (SRs) which are event specific and Ragulations (sic), all of which have the potential to compromise an organiser or competitor.