Ordnance Survey has a lot to answer for – their maps are just too damn good. Having wielded them for 35 years now, I suppose I've become complacent about maps in general. Aren't all maps accurate and up-to-date? Rarely do OS get it wrong, and they can be forgiven for the occasional straightening of nasty bends in Wales, or failing to show the topical detail of a new housing development. Road rally navigators can rely on the accuracy of yellows and whites to pace note their drivers to the next TC. In daylight events I've often relied upon map features such as churches, phone boxes, bridges and ETLs to determine my exact location on the road after a head down session of plotting and average speed calculations. Therefore, when I had to use strange maps for France to guide me from Le Touquet to Monte Carlo on the recent Winter Challenge Rally, it was a bit of a cartographical shock.
The route for the event (other than one secret night section) was distributed two weeks upfront and was defined by directions of departure at junctions on Michelin maps. The scale of these maps varies from 1:150,000 to 1:180,000 – at best one-third the detail of our beloved Landranger series. Apparently, this is the norm for the continent and many crews seemed content to use these maps throughout the event.
I used the Michelin maps for the transport sections, but this highlighted some road numbering inconsistencies. There were a few occasions when a navigator-to-driver instruction like “In 2k turn left on to the D21” went unprocessed because the D21 on the map was actually the D35 on the road. Beware also that like the USA, road numbering is regional, so crossing a prefecture (county) boundary in France, can upset “on-your-own” instructions like “stay on the D60 until you reach Randomville”. If Randomville is in the next county, the D60 may well change to another number before you get there.
For the regularity sections, I wanted more detail. The organisers had supplied the list of 1:100000 scale IGN (Institut Géographique National) maps that covered the route; though it was at the navigator’s own risk to transfer the route correctly to these unofficial maps. This was not such a straightforward task as it seemed. The correlation of road numbers between the two series of maps is not perfect, and when there is a single squiggly road on Michelin and two parallel squigglies on the IGN, you take a chance which might be the correct one. Oh, and if you scan portions of the maps at home and print enlargements to provide even greater detail, don’t be an imbécile and leave the last map in the scanner.
Navigation on the IGN maps also presented a few problems. A white road can indicate anything from, in OS terms, a wide yellow to an obscure footpath. If you are counting the latter to look for a slot, you may never see it and end up going off route. Moreover, if you are up in the mountains don't try to call the road from the maps. It's an easy way to lose where you are because many bends, and even hairpins, can be missing.
A good tip for rural areas I heard from a regular handler of French maps is to look ahead to the next place name and then head in that direction instead of a road number at junctions. Try to measure road distances from the map too; you won’t be exact, but an approximate distance to monitor can sometimes be better than relying on spotting a landmark.
I sneaked a look at the paperwork of some of the top crews and was amazed at the detailed “route notes” they were carrying. I suppose there are crews that compete regularly in France and maybe others that even had time for a recce before the event started.
The Winter Challenge ran to the continental method of regularity timing, which uses the start of the regularity as the timing reference point. I initially missed this in the regulations which is covered by the short paragraph “Adherence to the time schedule in a Regularity Section will be assessed by comparing the time of arrival at any Regularity Timing Point with the time of departure from the Regularity Start Control.” Consequently, if you are late at the first timing point, you need to hurry up and claw back the lost time to return to your cumulative schedule by the next timing point. All a bit foreign to a regular HRCR UK competitor.
Despite these navigational difficulties, the biggest reason for my mediocre performance on the Winter Challenge was the weather. A poor first day kept us down the re-seeded running order for day two, which took us into the snow and ice of the French uplands. An Alfa Romeo shod with road tyres (and occasionally snow chains) is a slippery nightmare at best without having to negotiate the cars in front that have already slid to a halt or wedged into a snow bank. This is when cumulative regularities can hit you hard. Once you have scored a maximum at a timing point (i.e. more than two and a half minutes late), maximums at subsequent timing points will almost certainly follow unless you can unleash the warp drive unit you hid from the scrutineers.
We completely skipped the night three and night four sections because of weather and zero brakes, and this decision highlighted an anomaly in the penalty system. The crews that braved the icy darkness and then had major problems received identical (and in some cases more) penalties than we did, making us the envy of bleary-eyed crews the following morning.
By no means a comfortable event, with a raft of penalties and frost bitten extremities from pushing stranded cars. Credit to the CRA though for delivering a superbly organised event and social break despite the whitest conditions they had ever encountered and night-time temperatures of -20 degrees centigrade.
A final caution about the logistics of getting back home from Monte Carlo. Disorganised before setting out for France, we had not booked our intended return home on the overnight Autotrain from Nice to Paris. We stopped off in Nice station on the run-in to Monaco to buy tickets and luckily secured one of the final places. However, the train journey from Nice to Paris is not straightforward. You have to book your car onto one train several hours before you catch a separate passenger train. As a second-class passenger, you occupy a six-berth sleeper, which is fine unless you are sharing the claustrophobic space with fidgety, snoring French people. In Paris (Austerlitz station), you are herded like cattle for a bundled petty (sic) dejeuner – croissant and orange juice – before catching a bus to Paris (Bercy station) to collect your precious vehicle. Rumours of waiting hours for unloading didn’t impress; fortunately, the Alfa was next off which wasn't aided by the committee of four Frenchmen that were misinforming each other as to the correct start procedure.
The train saves money, petrol, and wear and tear on the car, but after the posh food and hotels of the Winter Challenge the journey experience was a bump back to reality.
My diary records that from February 26 to March 4 I took part in an adventure in France. To admit to myself that I was so unprepared for a rally would be too hard to bear.
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I thought the
Tour of Cheshire a week later would be a doddle by comparison, but the
opening round of the HRCR Clubmans Championship brought new challenges.
Now using those nice OS maps, I was more at home with spot heights, grid
lines and plotable map references for the navigation, but the tests
brought a headache or three.
Regularities, Jogularities and Rosularities have taxed my brain in the past, but the Gosularity (from the inventor Shon Gosling) was a new twist for me. This is the combination of regularity and (long) driving tests. Not busy enough with slaloms around cones and front-facing code boards to collect, we had to note speed change signs during the test and attempt to maintain the displayed average speeds.
By luck, we were second best on the first Gosularity. Having tried hard to maintain speed up to the first timing point, the (presumably deliberate) marshalling delay in recording a time followed by more code boards and cone avoidance, meant a flat out burst to the finish was the only sensible strategy. Sure enough, everyone was late at the finish.
On the second Gosularity, we went flat from the start to finish, driving through – like many other crews – an unmarked timing point on the way. The section was cancelled.
A couple of the conventional driving tests were also mind numbing in their complexity; one in particular saw over half the field score a maximum for a wrong test. There were some low penalty tests in Tattenhall requiring circumnavigation of tennis balls, and car width and height guessing. These were specifically designed to attract spectators from the village, but the low attendance suggested those with a sporting interest were watching England beat Italy at rugby instead.
An excellent and interesting start to the Clubmans year, though I felt a worthy winner could have been produced without the over complex tests and Gosularities.
* * *
Code boards on tests are fair game to slow you down, but using them on the road often provokes controversy and complaint, and I side with Brian Cope’s suggestions in oldSTAGER No.89. Interestingly there were no code boards on the Tour of Cheshire regularities, so we have yet to see how HRCR organisers will address the problem. Perhaps in a few years time communications technology will be so cheap that code boards and marshals will become redundant. How long will it be before a WRC-type GPS recorder is fitted to a car at the start of an HRCR event and the route travelled is downloaded and automatically marked at the finish? What fun it would be to project an OS map on a large screen and watch a virtual replay of who went where?