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Rallying is the most popular form of motorsport in Britain, perhaps because it involves ordinary-looking cars. It involves two people working together, a driver and co-driver. Each car usually starts at at one-minute intervals, competing against the clock rather than directly against each other. Whilst very specialised cars are required for top level special stage rallying, unmodified, everyday cars can be used for simple road events, making this one of the cheapest forms of motorsport available.


The essence of this type of event is to maintain a time schedule through a series of control points by following route instructions which often put the emphasis on navigation. These events take place on normal public roads, almost always at night.


The basis of events such as Rally GB - the special stage - is a stretch of road closed to all other traffic, which must be covered at high average speed. In most of Great Britain - exceptions are Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Isle of Mull, Channel Islands and the roads used on the Jim Clark Memorial Rally - public highways are not available for this purpose, so special stage events use private land, frequently Forestry Commission roads or disused airfields.


So how do rally drivers manage to hurtle through forests or over unmade roads at terrifying speeds without becoming entangled in the scenery before they've travelled two hundred yards?

The answer lies in the cool head and clear instructions of the second person in the car - the co-driver (or navigator, but never call her/him a passenger).

On some rallies prior to the start the crews are not aware of the route they are to follow. They follow instructions in a Road Book which give them a sequence of distances between junctions (road or forest tracks), and what to do at those junctions. These often have to be put onto large scale Ordnance Survey maps by the co-driver who then has to "read the road" back to the driver.

On other rallies crews are allowed to look at the special stages beforehand, and prepare Pace Notes. This is what you hear the co-driver reading on in-car shots on television, with a string of apparently unrelated words of verbal shorthand "...square left don't cut - 60 - caution square right over bridge K left - 40 flat crest - 100..." giving the driver advance information, and therefore confidence, about the road she/he can't yet see.

Make no mistake about how important those words are. When Marko Martin's bonnet flew up against the windscreen on stage in the recent Acropolis Rally his co-driver continued to read the pace notes they had prepared, they successfully completed the stage losing only a few seconds, and went on to win that round of the World Rally Championship.

Working through a road book is easy in an armchair; it becomes much more mentally challenging when you're strapped into a bouncing rally car travelling sideways at well over 80 miles an hour; the noise is so loud that if it wasn't for the crash helmet you'd have to wear hearing protection or risk hearing damage; and when the intercom doesn't work, shouting becomes futile, and you have to resort to impromptu hand signals. Teamwork is the name of the game.

Whilst we're on the subject of teamwork let's not forget the service crews who perform heroic tasks in muddy fields or on the roadside, at all times of the day or night, in order to keep the car and crew in the rally.

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