Many call it indecipherable gibberish, but rally pace notes are absolutely critical to going fast on narrow, unfamiliar roads where every tree and rock is gleefully plotting all the ways it intends to make you it's bitch. Having to run without notes can cost a driver a full minute or more per stage. And as everyone knows, a minute in motorsports time is approximately 1.7 years in normal time. A misheard or misread pace note can have even more dire consequences, drivers trust the pace notes implicitly and blindly following an incorrect note has resulted in numerous accidents, including this past weekend in Portugal. Staying on track with the notes is critical, and a well organized pace note book is a big part of minimizing mistakes and problems.
WARNING: This is a detailed technical post and is therefore lengthy and, despite my best efforts, mostly dry. If you aren't one for thorough explanations I instead offer you this video of cats being complete jerks.
All set? Good. So, today's article is all about familiarizing yourself with and preparing your note book, both in terms of the book itself and the notes within. Additionally, in this article we will be dealing strictly with Jemba notes, which is the primary system in the Untied States and is also used at many events in countries such as Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, and Great Britain.
What is Jemba and why is it used? (Warning, long and wordy explanation ahead. Skip if you already know about Jemba)
In short, Jemba is a computer-generated note system which uses an odometer and a series of accelerometers to create stage notes, which organizers will then give to the competitors before the event. This is done largely for two reasons. First, to make things easier for new teams who haven't grasped the art of note-creation (which is very difficult). Second, and more critically, Jemba notes are used to save time and to increase the ability to get permission to use roads. To create good notes from scratch usually takes at least a two-pass recce, that's two reconnaissance runs down each stage, one pass to write the notes and a second to review and edit them. To give you an idea of how long that would take, a single-pass recce at a Rally America event usually takes 6-10 hours. Since trying to recce in the dark is pretty much useless doing a two-pass at that scale would likely mean two days of recce. Additionally many of the roads aren't open to all-hours travel. The Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally for example is run mostly in state parks, while the New England Forest Rally is largely run on privately owned logging roads (and even through a few logging sites). There is only so much time they're willing to give to the sixty recce cars that want to parade down their roads. In some cases (usually the more grassroots events) providing Jemba notes makes it possible for organizers to forgo having to create time and negotiate with road owners/towns/counties for any recce at all.
The system does have some drawbacks. Since no two runs down a road are exactly uniform the Jemba system can have slight discrepancies if you run it down the same stage and check the results, meaning it isn't 100% accurate. Additionally it can't tell if a note needs to be marked as "no cut (n.c.)" because of a culvert pipe on the inside of the corner, nor can it tell if you're going over a narrow bridge or cattle guard, meaning these notes need to be added in manually. It also means competitors are relying on the note-creators to have not missed anything, and for road conditions to have remained unchanged between the date of note creation (usually weeks in advance) and the date of the rally. Furthermore what the notes call an R5 a driver used to creating his own notes might mark as an R4, because unlike the always-uniform Jemba system, the differentiation between corners can vary from driver to driver. For this reason Jemba notes are technically referred to as "stage notes" (notes describing the stage) and not "pace notes" (notes created to suit the pace and driving style of a particular driver). That said most people still informally refer to them as pace notes.
Contents of a typical American Jemba stage note book are as follows: Disclaimer > a few P-Sport ads (P-Sport is Jemba's U.S. affiliate) > an eight-page section containing a description of stage notes and how to read them along with a complete glossary (which is great if you come across an obscure note, like r.r. (railroad) or w.b. (water bar)) > note introduction, which will give the date and weather conditions from when the notes were created, describe the general condition of the stages, and give coordinates for the start and end points of each stage > speed profile, which shows graphs of speed through the stages > the start of notes for the event, which will be somewhere around page 16 in the book. A typical book for a Rally America national event will average 100-130 pages (all single sided), regional event books will be smaller, typically 40-80 pages. The back cover often has an "OK" printed on the outside (which you are to show all passing competitors if you're stopped on stage and no one is injured or in need of emergency attention) and a red cross printed on the inside (to be shown in case of emergency. Showing the red cross will stop all competition on the stage). If these aren't on the back cover of the stage note book they'll be on the back cover of the transit route book.
Back to the rally
Ok, so let's say you're a co-driver. You've arrived at the rally mid-evening on the day before recce/technical inspection (often referred to as "scrutineering" in rally), two days before the rally itself starts. Being a co-driver and therefore one of the most badass S.O.B's at the event you strut into recce registration (yes, recce has its own registration) and after signing a few papers (rally organizers are constantly asking for your autograph) you are handed two spiral bound books. One is your transit route book, which tells you how to get between stages, the other is your Jemba stage note book. The VERY FIRST thing you want to do is go through it and make sure no pages are missing, inserted in the wrong place, or incorrectly oriented. It's extremely rare for a mistake like this to be made, but it has happened on occasion and it will ruin your day on stage if not caught early. The second thing most co-drivers will do is add a tab/Post-It flag to the first page of each stage. This makes it easy to find and flip to stage starts in the book. Some co-drivers choose to attach the tabs along the top, others down the side. I'm a side-tab man myself. Either way be sure to stagger them and clearly write the stage number on each tab. The book in the leading photo belongs to Noble Star Rally co-driver Derek Rudisel and is a masterful example of page-tabbing. The third thing I do is fold down the top right corner of every other page in the book. This makes it a hundred billion times easier to quickly grab and flip to the next page on stage without running the risk of accidentally flipping too many pages (I made that mistake once and ended up so lost in the notes I had to sit for a full mile waiting for us to come across a bridge so I could find my place). My personal preference is to fold about an inch of the corner, folding it over toward the back. I did some testing and found that for me at least it's easier to get my finger under the folded corner if it's folded backward instead of forward. Yes, I am a tad OCD.
At this point the book itself is pretty much good to go, so it's on to the notes. These you don't want to touch unless you've talked with your driver about the changes they want (or you've been with the same driver for a long time and already KNOW what they want, even if they don't). When it comes to running with Rory there is one change to the notes that I will make before recce, and that's blacking out all straightaway distances below 40, usually blacking out the 40s as well during recce. At speed these straights are more like brief pauses between corners, and visually a 20 and a 30 both look equally short. When I see a black box in the notes, signifying one of those blacked out straights, I read it as "and." I've also sat with a driver who had me remove all the pluses("+") from the notes. Jemba notes will sometimes include a "+" or "-" after a corner number, signifying it as either slightly more open (straighter) or slightly tighter than normal. There is only a finite amount of information a driver wants to/can hear and process while at speed (unless the driver is Petter Solberg), so some prefer to simplify the notes by having one or both of these symbols removed. Like I said, talk to your driver and see what they want to hear.
So, after a good solid night's sleep (yeah right) and the shortest breakfast you've ever had it's off to recce, which typically starts around 7 AM. For recce most bring the following: Co-driver bag (remember that thing?), stage notes and route book, Sharpie, a couple hi-lighters, and a mechanical pencil. During recce the co-driver reads the notes to the driver, as if running the stage (though at what is, hopefully, a much slower pace). If there is any note the driver wants added, removed, or altered they will tell the co-driver during the recce. From this point on it's extremely subjective, so I will simply say what I do.
Spot an unbelievably dirty car the day before the rally? You just found someone's recce car.
For the most part I exclusively use my mechanical pencil during recce. I have Asperger's, which in my case comes along with mild motor skills issues. For me legibly writing letters by hand takes about the same level of concentration that drawing a picture takes for most people, and about as much time. Add in the bouncing and jostling of being in a recce car on a rough surface and producing writing that can be read at race speed is almost impossible for me. Obviously this is a rather significant problem for a co-driver, which is why I use the pencil during recce instead of the Sharpie. I will scribble the note as quickly as possible, aiming for an "I'll be able to figure out what it's supposed to be when I look at it tonight" level of quality. I may not be able to write notes legible enough to read at speed during recce, but I've never been unable to read my scribbles that night in the hotel room. When with Rory typical modifications include eliminating small crests on straights, turning anything saying "tree/rock/exposure outside" into "keep neat" (telling a driver what he might hit on the exit of a corner can cause them to look for/focus on that item and end up hitting what they're trying to avoid), and turning small jumps (and occasionally regular jumps) on straights into crests. I leave small jumps on corners alone because even if it won't send us airborne calling it as a "small jump" lets Rory know the car will become light in the corner (read: loss of grip), allowing him to adjust his speed and line accordingly. We will also shorten long calls. For example, L6 lg>5/smCr<>5-/smCr (that's "left six long tightens five over small crest opens and tightens five minus over small crest") is a real note from the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally and is describing a single corner. It's an absolute mouthful for me and and an earful for Rory, so notes like this one get shortened to something simpler. Beyond that it's just polish. Underlining two or more notes that I want to link so I know to call them together, changing the position of a ! so I know to call it sooner, blacking out the places where it says "spectators" so Rory doesn't try to show off for the crowd, etc.
Once back from recce a driver's work is done for the day and he is free to relax, watch tv, tweet, nap, or go down to the hotel bar and try to pick up chicks. I, meanwhile, have another hour or two I must devote to my books. I rewrite my penciled-in notes with the Sharpie, then carefully re-read the book front-to-back to make sure there's nothing I missed and nothing seems fragmented or poorly spaced. Lastly I use my hi-lighter in the transit route book, hi-lighting the turns and intersections to ensure we don't get lost on transit, which can potentially cost even more time than a mistake on stage. I used to also hi-light critical stage notes to ensure I knew to call them early enough, but I found the bright color of the hi-lighter would distract my eye and put me at risk of misreading a note earlier on the page. Now I don't have that issue, but I need to make sure I'm reading far enough ahead to get those important notes out early, without getting so far ahead that Rory forgets the call by the time we reach the corner (note-calling is a balancing act). With my route book hi-lighted I am finally ready for the start of the rally the next day, and finally free to relax, watch tv, tweet, nap, or go down to the hotel bar and try to pick up chicks (doesn't work, they always go for the drivers. Curse you, drivers!).
REMINDER: The Empire State Performance Rally is just under a week away in Rock Hill, NY. There will be some Jalops in attendance, including a certain Baja Bug-owning writer, so if you're within driving distance and have nothing better to do (what could be better than rally?) be sure to come out and get a free TAG Rally Sport cowbell. Part 6 will be a review of this rally, along with a surprise announcement. You can follow Dusty Ventures on Twitter at @DVMSteve and TAG Rally Sport at@Tagrallysport1
Lead photo credit: Alex Wong/Emotive Image