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Rallye des Neiges, 2011

Posted by Dave_G 
January 25, 2011 08:39PM
There's a new road rally series that has been put together this winter in the eastern U.S. and Canada, called the Winter INTernational Rally (WINTR) Series. It's composed of existing winter rallies in Ontario, Québec, Vermont, New York, Ohio, and Michigan, and is designed so that each rally is run under the rules of whatever club is putting it on, which means that each rally is just a little different from the next. Since bad luck with the calendar requires Neil and me to miss the famous Vermont Winter Challenge Rally right in our back yard, we've decided to do the next three closest rallies. Last week was the Long Way Home Rally in western New York, which I already wrote about briefly. In three weeks we'll be trekking out to Ferdinand's neighborhood in Ontario for the all-night Maple Leaf Winter Rally.

This past weekend was the middle stop in our three-rally sojourn, the Rallye des Neiges in the Eastern Townships of Québec, just north of Vermont. This was our first time running a rally in Canada, and we were interested to see how things would go with a somewhat unfamiliar set of rules and procedures.

In a nutshell, we had a blast! It was a great night: the roads were snowpacked, frozen, and fast, with just enough slipperiness to make it fun. The route ran about 170 miles, from 7 p.m. to midnight. (Here's a Google map of the route.)

Since this was our first Canadian rally, there were several things that took some getting used to. First, instead of classes for equipped (rally computers), stock (no computers), and novice, the classes are "expert" and "novice." Since we're not novices, we must be experts. :razz: That meant we were competing against teams with rally computers, but it also meant we got to use the crude on-board computer in the BMW, which displays average speed. It took halfway through the rally before I figured out the best way to use it, but once I did, it was a big help for keeping on time.

Another big change for us was not getting the route instructions until we were driving away at the start. Over the years Neil and I have developed a routine that's based on two sets of instructions that we get an hour ahead of time. That meant that we had to devise a new technique. We planned it out at dinner before the start, but it took us a while to get the hang of it, and we never really got comfortable with our timing until almost halfway through the rally.

During the early part of rally we were pretty shaky. We got off to a bad start when in the excitement of getting our instructions at the start of the odometer check and figuring out where to go I forgot to zero the odometer until we were about 1/10 of mile down the road. Doh! :doh: Oh well, no big deal, since we were only going to be timing off of the route instructions and not the odometer, it didn't matter so much anyway. (Oh yeah, and reconciling route instructions in km with an odometer in miles meant a lot of multiplying by 3/5 in our heads all evening!)

Then things got worse when we got lost on the odometer check! In U.S. rallies we normally mount one set of instructions on a reader board that I can glance at while driving, which lets me concentrate on what turns are coming up, while Neil focuses on keeping us on time. But since that method was impossible with this rally, Neil was both feeding me instructions and trying to do the calculations. In this case, that meant he forgot to mention that an important left turn was "hidden", and I blew right by it without seeing it. And since I hadn't quite settled in yet to the in-my-head km-to-miles conversion, I wasn't even sure looking at the odometer where it was supposed to be! We soon enough realized we were off-course, turned around, wasted time in an unmarked cul-de-sac, and finally found the right turn, now several minutes behind. We had a few minutes to reach the end of the odometer check, and it was going to be very close whether we could get there on time, so I, uh, turned up the wick a bit on the "briskness" of my driving. :angel:

As it turned out, we reached the end of the odo check 37 seconds late, but since this was within the one-minute window for zero points, we were good. Or so I thought, until I blundered into our next big disaster. This time a little too much experience was a bad thing. See, in U.S. rallies, there is never a checkpoint at the end of the odo check, but in this rally there was. I knew that, but in my excitement to make up all that lost time I just forgot. There was a big knot of cars all stopped there, which looked like a typical end-of-odo-check scene to me, so since we were 37 seconds behind, I just blew right by everyone. There must have been 20 people there all wondering "WTH is that damn fool doing?" Then 2 minutes up the road was the next checkpoint, which I figured we would be right on time for. Neil saw the pinwheel-patterned sign at the checkpoint (different from the signs he's used to seeing), and said "That's a checkpoint sign? There was one of those back at that last turn!" (In my efforts to not hit anybody as I drove by I had not even seen it!) OK, so 20 minutes into the rally, and we've already missed a checkpoint. This is certainly not going the way we expected! :wall:

From there, it was difficult to put that behind us, though I tried. We managed not to get lost again, but we still hadn't gotten our timing down, and the km-to-miles conversion wasn't helping. Neil was working furiously with the calculator while still feeding me directions, and I was trying to keep the correct average speed, but on most legs we really didn't even know if we were early or late! At our worst leg in the early part of the rally we were three minutes early, and I still don't even know how we messed up so badly.

We weren't helped by another quirk of Québec rallies, which was that at each checkpoint, there was no time at all to take a breather and catch up on our calculations. In U.S. rallies, you generally get about 3-4 minutes at a checkpoint before it's time to leave. But here, the most we ever got was 30 seconds, and even that was a luxury. Sometimes we got out times that had already passed before I could even get back to the car! That also meant that we never got a chance to see how we did at each checkpoint.

But then, we settled in and things started going much more smoothly. Neil got the timing calculations done and did a phenomenal job of keeping us on time. About the same time, I figured out how to use the E30's OBC to keep track of our average speed, which helped a lot. It's no rally computer, but it's better than guessing from the speedometer!

And then, wonder of wonders, we got word at one of the checkpoints that at the first checkpoint where we had blown by without stopping, they decided to give us the time that we drove by. So not only did we not miss it after all, we scored a zero! Things were looking up again, and we were really clicking.

And then, toward the end of the rally, we got lost again. Right at the start of a section, we were right on time, and once again, we missed a left turn off the highway onto a side road. We took the next left turn, decided it looked wrong, went back to the highway, and instead of going back, we went farther up the road looking for the turn. We didn't find it, of course, went back to our original turn, went a mile or two up it before realizing it was wrong after all, and finally retraced our steps and found the correct turn just up the road. By that time we were more than 10 minutes late, and unfortunately there were no time allowances in this rally. That meant I had to try to make up the time on the road, but despite my best efforts, a checkpoint appeared much too soon for us, and we were checked in a full 10 minutes late.

That pretty much shot our chances of a respectable finish, but for the rest of the rally we did well, zeroing all the rest of the legs.

Until the final leg, when we came upon another competitor who had missed a 90-degree right turn and slid off into the snowbank. Contrary to the rules, they had no warning triangles, no shovels, and no tow strap. Our rally was toast anyway, so we stopped to help pull them out. The iX is pretty good at that sort of thing, but this car was wedged so deep in the snow that it was going to take a bigger vehicle to get them unstuck. So we left them with our triangles and shovels, wished them good luck, and sped off to try and make up some of the 5-10 minutes we had spent there. Unfortunately I had missed the announcement at the driver's meeting that there was an additional checkpoint stuck in at the end, so instead of having about 10 minutes to make up the time, and possibly being allowed to hand in our calculated correct time, we hit an unexpected checkpoint about a minute up the road, which checked us in 8 minutes late. At that point we didn't really care, but as it happens they ended up throwing out the scores from that checkpoint anyway, so there was no harm done.

So at the end of it all, we had some pretty good early legs, a lot of zeroes later on, and two completely blown legs. But most of all, we had huge fun, and we'll definitely be going back. The roads were all snowpacked, fast, and tricky -- in other words, FUN! :burnout: For the driver, the roads were absolutely perfect.

And once again, I was convinced that the iX is the best car ever made for stuff like this. :mrgreen:

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Dave
'91 325iX
January 27, 2011 04:36PM
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Dave_G
In three weeks we'll be trekking out to Ferdinand's neighborhood in Ontario for the all-night Maple Leaf Winter Rally.
I guarantee you'll like the Maple Leaf Winter Rally even more!

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Rallye des Neiges...(Here's a Google map of the route.)
I'm guessing those marked locations are the Ends of Sections? There were more Checkpoints than that.

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we got to use the crude on-board computer in the BMW, which displays average speed... it was a big help for keeping on time.
Did you switch the OBC display to read in km/h, or did you manually convert mph to km/h each time?

Before getting a proper rally computer, Christoph and I used the OBC avg speed display and found it extremely useful. However, it took us a while to clue into the fact that however much your odo factor is off by, you also need to apply that same correction factor to adjust the avg speed target displayed on the OBC.

That only works if you've established an accurate ODO correction factor. But that ain't gonna work if you get lost on the way to the ODO check location...

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we normally mount one set of instructions on a reader board that I can glance at while driving, which lets me concentrate on what turns are coming up, while Neil focuses on keeping us on time
We tried that once. But it's surprisingly difficult to read even simple instructions while you should be concentrating on driving. I got lost.

The first set of instructions from the start to the odo check location are usually very simple and straightforward. The odo check location is some recognizable landmark along the way, for example, "The red mailbox on right should be exactly 15.0km from the start". When you get to that point, but your car's odometer only says something like 14.5km, you'll know by what percentage you need to adjust all the distance instructions for the rest of the rally. If they then tell you to do an average speed of 15.0 km/h, you should also adjust that by the same ratio so your target speed will be more like 14.5 km/h.

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Another big change for us was not getting the route instructions until we were driving away at the start.
The last time we ran that rally, starting from the Tim Hortons in Bromont, they told us they would be handing out the instruction routebook one minute before you're due to start out at the exit of the parking lot. Except the pre-rally drivers' meeting ran late.

We were the first car due to start. We dashed out to the car, rolled up to the start line at the exit of the parking lot, and there's nobody there! Thirty seconds after our start time had already passed, finally the organizer came running up all out of breath to hand us our routebook. So, not only did we NOT get our one minute to pre-study the routebook, they actually handed it to us and sent us on our 30 seconds late already!

At the Maple Leaf Winter Rally they hand you the instructions inside the warm building (usually) five minutes before your start time. I start the car and let it warm up, brush the snow off, let Christoph get settled in the car with his calculator and clipboard and watches and whatever, then I'll go inside to fetch the instructions when it's time.

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in U.S. rallies, there is never a checkpoint at the end of the odo check, but in this rally there was.
There shouldn't be! It's a rule that a checkpoint cannot be located within 10 km after the odo check. See SMCC 3.12 Odometer Calibration.

By the way, you should read the Rally Sport Ontario RSO Regulations for Road Rally as they aren't the same as the SMCC regs. Odo Calibration is section 23.8. Note: The Supp Regs for MLWR provide Odo Check instructions to be run BEFORE starting the rally.

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We weren't helped by another quirk of Québec rallies, which was that at each checkpoint, there was no time at all to take a breather and catch up on our calculations.
That definitely is a quirk. They score all their checkpoints to the nearest minute, which sounds easy. But the disadvantage is that you only get what's left of that minute before you're supposed to re-start.

Ontario rallies like MLWR, in theory, operate the same way at checkpoints which are timed to the minute. Same as in Quebec, you only get what's left of that minute. However, if you arrive at more than 45 seconds into the minute, they're supposed to take pity on you and grant you an additional minute dead-time. Quebec never does that, and quite frequently you get screwed.

At checkpoints scored to the tenth of a minute (which most of them will be at MLWR), you'll always get what's left of the minute plus another full minute.

If several cars arrive at the same time you might get more dead-time, because they are supposed to space you out again so that cars leave the checkpoint at 1-minute intervals. In our past experiences in Quebec rallies, quite often they'd just give all the cars identical out-times, resulting in havoc...

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unfortunately there were no time allowances in this rally. That meant I had to try to make up the time on the road, ...
That's another difference between Quebec and Ontario. Quebec clubs apparently don't have an issue with cars trying to make up time on the road. We do have Time Allowances in Ontario. If you know you're late, for whatever reason, you can claim a Time Allowance of 0.5min, 1.5min, 2.5min, etc at the next checkpoint (up to a maximum of 19.5 minutes per Leg of the rally).

Our Ottawa club does not penalize you for taking a Time Allowance. The MLWR however, being part of the Ontario Road Rally Cup series, only gives you the first TA for free. After that, each subsequent use of a Time Allowance costs you a 30-sec penalty.

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Contrary to the rules, they had no warning triangles, no shovels, and no tow strap.

At the MLWR they will check to ensure each car has a warning triangle. It's a good rule!

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But most of all, we had huge fun, and we'll definitely be going back. The roads were all snowpacked, fast, and tricky -- in other words, FUN! :burnout: For the driver, the roads were absolutely perfect.
For sure the MLWR will be even more fun.

Christoph says he has a ride arranged to meet me in Bancroft. So it looks like we'll be there! Looking forward to meeting you.
January 27, 2011 09:25PM
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Ferdinand
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Rallye des Neiges...(Here's a Google map of the route.)
I'm guessing those marked locations are the Ends of Sections? There were more Checkpoints than that.
Yes, those are ends of sections that I located after getting home. At each checkpoint there wasn't even enough time to check our score, let alone push a button to mark where we were on the GPS trace!

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Did you switch the OBC display to read in km/h, or did you manually convert mph to km/h each time?
We left the OBC in MPH. Almost the entire rally was run at a speed of 63 km/h, which is 39.1 mph. Since the mph gradations on the speedometer are easier to see than the km/h ones, we left it. The hardest part was getting distances from Neil in kilometers, and having to convert them to miles so I could read the correct distance on the odometer. At first he was just giving me the km and I was doing a 3/5 multiplication in my head, but finally I just said "you've got the calculator and the tables -- give me miles!"

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Before getting a proper rally computer, Christoph and I used the OBC avg speed display and found it extremely useful. However, it took us a while to clue into the fact that however much your odo factor is off by, you also need to apply that same correction factor to adjust the avg speed target displayed on the OBC.
This was our first time running with any kind of computer. In the stock class we run in the US, anything beyond a simple 4-function calculator is forbidden, so this was a great luxury for us since we've never been allowed to use the OBC. I'm hoping that at the Maple Leaf Rally we don't take any wrong turns on the odo check, and can actually make use of having an accurate correction factor. The correction factor works the same way in U.S. rallies.

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we normally mount one set of instructions on a reader board that I can glance at while driving, which lets me concentrate on what turns are coming up, while Neil focuses on keeping us on time
We tried that once. But it's surprisingly difficult to read even simple instructions while you should be concentrating on driving. I got lost.
That's where getting the route instructions an hour ahead of time is a necessity. Generally when we get our instructions, Neil marks his copy up with times and distances, and I go crazy on mine with four different color highlighters. Left turns get red, right turns get green, CAS changes, pauses, and cautions get yellow, and transit zones (i.e. elapsed time portions) get surrounded in blue. Then I tape all the pages together in a big scroll and mount them on the reader board. With this system, and Neil's wizardry on the simple 4-function calculator, we manage to get within 10/100 of a minute (i.e. 6 seconds) most of the time. But the whole idea behind the WINTR series is to run under different sets of rules, so we are adapting to match the environment. With only a 5-minute lead time, I'm not sure what we're going to do. Since the reader board covers up the OBS, we'll be forced to choose between them, and I think we'll choose the OBC!

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If several cars arrive at the same time you might get more dead-time, because they are supposed to space you out again so that cars leave the checkpoint at 1-minute intervals.
Yeah, that's how it is in the U.S., too. If there's a big glut of cars all at once for some reason, we've sometimes had to wait 5 or 6 minutes. One time we waited 5 minutes, started to leave at our assigned time, and saw another car leaving at the same time! I figured the checkpoint worker messed up and assigned two cars the same out time, so I stopped, went back to the checkpoint, and explained what happened. He was very apologetic and assigned us the next available out time, which was another 5 minutes away. We got lots of time to stretch on that one.

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That's another difference between Quebec and Ontario. Quebec clubs apparently don't have an issue with cars trying to make up time on the road. We do have Time Allowances in Ontario. If you know you're late, for whatever reason, you can claim a Time Allowance of 0.5min, 1.5min, 2.5min, etc at the next checkpoint (up to a maximum of 19.5 minutes per Leg of the rally).
Yeah, that's the system we're used to in the U.S. as well. I had an interesting chat with one of the SMCC guys after the rally about this. His argument was that time allowances remove any penalty for making a navigational error, and there should be a penalty. My argument was that a) it encourages fast driving when a mistake is made, and b) it provides a strong disincentive to help out fellow competitors in trouble. I think both arguments have merit, but I prefer having TAs.

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Our Ottawa club does not penalize you for taking a Time Allowance. The MLWR however, being part of the Ontario Road Rally Cup series, only gives you the first TA for free. After that, each subsequent use of a Time Allowance costs you a 30-sec penalty.
Ouch! That's good to know. At the Long Way Home Rally we used four separate 0.5 minute TAs (mostly because with the snow we couldn't keep up the average speed!), and so did many other teams.

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Christoph says he has a ride arranged to meet me in Bancroft. So it looks like we'll be there! Looking forward to meeting you.
Awesome! Likewise! We looking forward to it! I've already reserved my room at the Bancroft Inn (checking in after breakfast and checking out in the afternoon. :razz: -- they were quite accommodating).

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Dave
'91 325iX
January 28, 2011 10:42AM
January 28, 2011 11:44AM
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Dave_G
This was our first time running with any kind of computer.
I can't imagine doing it without a computer anymore.

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I'm hoping that at the Maple Leaf Rally we don't take any wrong turns on the odo check, and can actually make use of having an accurate correction factor.
Did you download the Supp Regs?

You run the odo check at your leisure before starting the event. It's simple, turn left out of the driveway, go straight for 10km. No way you can get lost. :wink:

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getting the route instructions an hour ahead of time is a necessity.
I've never seen a TSD rally where they give you the instructions that far in advance.

Typicallly we've only ever had two different types of road rallies. "Drivex" where the instructions were dead simple, but the average speeds were difficult to achieve. "Navex" where the driving is not at all challenging, so the challenge is all in decoding or deciphering the instruction set on the fly.

"Drivex" rallies, like the old Ontario Winter Rally (OWR), have fallen out of favour because it's too easy to be mistakenly painted with the "street racing" brush. Rally Sport Ontario effectively banned drivex rallies.

The Maple Leaf Winter Rally (MLWR) inherited all the same challenging roads, but the average speeds have been toned down and some relatively easy Navex-style instructions have been added.

Last year, or the year before?, they had a section of instructions where you had to plot coordinates onto a map provided. That proved too difficult for several teams to do in the car on the fly. The trick was this section occurred later, after an End of Leg break. There was time to work ahead in the notes during the break, but only if you had planned ahead and dropped the navigator off at the rally-HQ for the break, before the driver taking the car to get gas. Teams who took the navigator along to refuel their cars found themselves running out of time...

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With only a 5-minute lead time, I'm not sure what we're going to do. Since the reader board covers up the OBS, we'll be forced to choose between them, and I think we'll choose the OBC!
Good choice!

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One time we waited 5 minutes, started to leave at our assigned time, and saw another car leaving at the same time! I figured the checkpoint worker messed up and assigned two cars the same out time, so I stopped, went back to the checkpoint, and explained what happened. He was very apologetic and assigned us the next available out time, which was another 5 minutes away. We got lots of time to stretch on that one.
Nice.

Having volunteered to work checkpoints, I know it can quickly get very confusing when several cars show up together in a pack. The checkpoint worker notes a time for each car. But when people then come running up to my window, I have no idea who belongs to which car. It's very important to present yourselves in the order in which you crossed the timing line.

Here's something to watch out for when using the Avg Speed display on your OBC, especially in the Quebec rallies.

The OBC starts calculating avg speed from the moment you hit the reset button. That's fine at spots where the instructions tell you to change average speed. They say to do an avg of 45 km/h, and you're happily trucking along with the display reading 45 knowing you're exactly on time. Then there's an instruction to change speed where you just hit the reset button and slow down or speed up as required. Dead simple.

But you have to watch out for those damn timed-to-the-minute checkpoints in Quebec, where you're not given enough time to get out of your car and run back to the checkpoint control. Too frequently your out-time has already passed before you manage to get back to your car. What you have to do there is ask Neil to already hit the reset button at the top of the next minute, even before you've come back, just in case you do miss your out-time. That way the OBC already starts taking into account the dead-time that the car is spending sitting there not moving.

Let's say you're supposed to be continuing at 60 km/h avg after leaving the checkpoint, but you're already a minute late returning to the car. If you only hit the reset button right then as you leave, then speed up to the required 60 k avg, you'll still be that one minute behind schedule ever more. But, if you've already had Neil hit the reset button at the top of the correct minute, now you can take off and do whatever speed is required to eventually bring the Avg Speed reading on the OBC back up to the required 60 km/h.

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I had an interesting chat with one of the SMCC guys after the rally about this. His argument was that time allowances remove any penalty for making a navigational error, and there should be a penalty. My argument was that a) it encourages fast driving when a mistake is made, and b) it provides a strong disincentive to help out fellow competitors in trouble. I think both arguments have merit, but I prefer having TAs.
We copied your Time Allowance system. One of our club members went down to do the Route of All Evil rally and thought the TA system was brilliant. Ever since the Motorsport Club of Ottawa has used the same system.

We had a heck of a time convincing the rest of the Rally Sport Ontario (RSO) clubs though. The purists all thought it amounts to cheating. But eventually they agreed it makes sense, legally, liability-wise, etc. But, in RSO events, only the first use is free. Subsequent TA's cost you a 30 sec penalty, so you have to use them wisely. I don't know how the Quebec clubs still get away without granting Time Allowances.

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At the Long Way Home Rally we used four separate 0.5 minute TAs (mostly because with the snow we couldn't keep up the average speed!), and so did many other teams.
To benefit from a TA you still have to know exactly how late you actually are. More often than not, novices take a wild guess and claim a TA that's too large, thereby ending up with a penalty that ends up worse than if they hadn't claimed a TA at all.
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