Pace Notes - Page 2 of 3

From Chris Biewer [ 04/09/2002 ].
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A great article on rally pace notes, find out everything including example photos of tricky situations.

  This page is a continuation of our Pace Notes article beginning here.

What should pace notes look like?

This gets complicated now, because every driver is different, every car behaves different, every human has different preferences, this makes rallying so special. This means that every driver has his own way of doing things, including the pace notes. Therefore there are different ways and systems of pace notes. There is only one similarity between all of them, the information has to be detailed, unmistakable and clear, yet very short – after all you are going at the fastest speed possible for you!

We can decide between 2 main pace note systems:

  1. By numbers: numbers are easy to understand, so this would be the most obvious system to start with. Yet it becomes tricky sooner than you’d expect. The most common system is by numbers according to the gear you would take a curve in, i.e. “R5” is a 5th gear right, flat out basically, “L2” is a 2nd gear left. But it is not always used exactly like this, as this would turn out into telling you the speed you can do a curve with, rather than what the road ahead looks like. One problem could be i.e. a 3rd gear curve in the dry is no longer 3rd gear in the wet. Or just after a hairpin a tight curve may go flat out. So this can be tricky, i.e. Colin Mc Rae does it like this. But it would be advisable, at least for a beginner, to use numbers – or in fact any pace note system – according to the shape of the road, rather than the speed you can do, it just seems to be more consistent and such easier to picture regardless of speed and road condition. Like identify a certain degree of a curve with a certain number and use the gears only as a guide line. For me it seems easier to cope with a higher number, like a higher gear means faster than a lower number. But that’s me, everybody is different, as already said.

    This said, the numbers can as well be used the other way round, the higher the number the tighter the curve, with number 1 being the fastest possible. However this system is not very often used, the only driver I know of using such system is Pentti Airikkala. He uses numbers 1-10, with 1 being flat out and 10 being a hairpin, a strong contrast to the way described first with numbers 1-5 being roughly in line with the gears. Yet again, everybody is different, the numbers are only used as a code the driver has to understand. You could use names of drinks if you like with the higher percentage of alcohol being the faster curve – as long as the driver understands virtually in a reflex what these signals mean! I.e. one such weirdo is Gary Leece from the Isle of Man. Only Gary Leece knows what “Arol Flynn” and “Bloomer” are – no, not the actors, the types of curves with that name! (Let’s ignore the back to front numbers in the following as it relies on the same basic principle as the other number system but is far less commonly used)
  2. The descriptive notes: as the name implements, curves are described in words rather than being identified with a number. For a start they seem more clearly describing what a curve looks like rather than how fast you can go through it. The descriptive notes are as a result easily more detailed than numbered notes, it seems easier to add or describe certain things when you use word descriptions in the first place. One example that jumps to mind, a long 180° curve = a hairpin that is much faster and rounder than a typical hairpin, would be much easier to picture as an “open hairpin” rather than “long whatever number”. But inevitably the descriptive notes have the disadvantage to be more complicated and under pressure harder to take in for the driver, since they are more complex. Of course the descriptions for the driver still have to be short and clear to avoid any possibility of confusion. This results in an interesting side effect. In many languages, words can be very long and complicated. Just listen to Luis Moya! Or i.e. in the German language a “hairpin” = “Haarnadel” and a “square” = “Rechtwinkelig”. It seems a widely accepted fact that by far the best language to give short, unmistakable key commands in words is English. This leads to teams like Juha Kankkunen & Juha Repo = all Finnish and Armin Schwarz & Manfred Hiemer = all German insisting to only speak English inside their rally car rather than their native language! This way it seems is the best possible for them to get across a load of detailed information in short key signals.

To all this you add distances. Only now you have the basics. You describe a situation and you tell when to expect it, so i.e. the driver gets an idea when to brake for the curve after the crest in picture #3 above (i.e. you would have to actually brake before the crest, before you see the curve). Yet again there are several ways of doing this. Largely distances are in meters, a 2 or 3 digit number. Such confusion with distances and the 1 digit curve (grade/gear) numbers is very unlikely (and anyway impossible in the descriptive system). In the numbered system you can use the curve number either in front or after calling the curve, it is entirely a matter of taste, the descriptive system however only seems to make sense in one order. If we take i.e. again picture #3 from the top of this article, we have a crest and 30 meters later a square left. This could look like this:

  • Crest 30 SqL 
  • Crest 30 L2
  • Crest 30 2L

Let’s compare the 2 main systems and their signals:

Descriptive notes                 :             Numbered Notes:

These notes would be followed by “L” for left and “R” for right

  • “Max” = Maximum (also used “Absolute” or just the direction on its own)
  • “F” = Fast
  • “S” = Slight
  • “E” = Easy
  • “M” = Medium
  • “K” = Kay or King
  • “Sq” = Square
  • “Hp” = Hairpin

To this it has to be pointed out yet again that there are personal variations, not only in numbers back to front or use of more numbers, but as you can see for the descriptive system as well. I.e. some drivers swap “F” & “S” around, or while some may be happy with a very fast curve that you can hardly get wrong only to be called L or R for only left or right, others may prefer to call it L/R Max or Absolute L/R to avoid any confusion. You see as well the use of “Kay” or “King”, either instead of “Medium” or as an additional variation. There is actually no meaning to the words “Kay” or “King”. There are just so many possibilities and habits that we cannot look at every single one of them.

This was still only basics, now the fine tuning:

Let’s start off with easy details. Whether you use numbers or descriptions, there can always be curves that are on the edge of a description or in between 2 of them. This is where you see the use of -/+, minus & plus. If you have something too slow for a 3 or Medium but too fast for a 2 or Square, you may call it “2+” or “Sq+” or alternatively “3-“ or “M-“, whatever describes it better or whatever you feel more comfortable with.

Some curves can be longer or shorter than usual or expected, which is easily identified in adding “long” or “short” either before or after the actual curve description.

Sometimes curves are in quick succession. In some cases in such quick succession that you have to sacrifice your racing line in the first curve to get the best line through the next/last curve for best momentum and speed for the following straight. To describe combinations of curves seems easier in the descriptive system, but generally you can play with distances. I.e. instead of a distance you combine curves with “and” or in very short succession with “into”. You will note the difference looking at and trying to picture this:

  • ML 30 SqR - (L3 30 R2)
  • ML and SqR - (L3 and R2)
  • ML into SqR - (L3 into R2)

Now, especially in the descriptive system, you can even take this a step further for an even more detailed idea for your driver:

  • ML keep left for SqR

This is a very important detail:

Don’t cut here because of….

….this concrete drainage hidden in the grass. It can easily swallow your wheel, better warn the driver!

But cut here! But there is so much more alone to that picture #6 as an example: Whether you plan to cut this curve or not, if you are not running first on the road you have to consider that many drivers going through here before you will cut over the grass on the inside and such they will throw mud and dirt onto the track for you! To add to it, you approach this particular right hander coming from an open field, but here are trees (resulting in the poor quality of this photo, sorry!). Depending on weather conditions, i.e. overnight rain, this place will dry out much slower than the stretch of road you just came from, i.e. for less sun and less wind. Your driver would want to be warned that it might be slippy here. You see how focused on all sorts of details you already have to be during recce. In fact this curve would be a classic scene for a beginners error, a driver hitting the mud by surprise simply because lack of experience made this curve look harmless during recce.

So, now we have “cut” and “don’t cut” as well as “slippy” or “mud” in the frame. The same way the driver wants to be told of change of surface “onto tarmac”, “onto gravel” but as well of course the stuff you can easily imagine “water”, “water splash” and you of course know the difference between “dip”, “crest” and “jump”, all of which of course affecting the handling of the car.

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