The MGA With An Attitude
ROAD RALLY - How To Play TSD - COMP-130

TSD Rally Checkpoint Road rally differs from racing in that you are (usually) not running for fastest speed or shortest time. The most common form of road rally is the TSD Rally (Time-Speed-Distance) where you are expected to maintain a given average speed. The designated speed may change frequently with variations of road conditions, and very often you do not know where the check points will be. You're just driving casually along when you see one of these signs, and you have to be there at the right time. Simple in theory, but maybe not quite so simple in execution.

TSD Rally is sometimes referred to as a parlor game with automobiles. Anyone can play, given that you have a road safe car and a licensed driver. It can help immensely if you also have a navigator who at least knows how the game works, or minimally can read the instructions while you drive. The course is run on public roads (usually) within the legal speed limits, and you are expected to obey all traffic laws. You are given a set of very specific route instructions intended to keep you on course at all times. If there is ever anything irregular or in error or ambiguous about the route instructions, you can file a protest (at end of rally). If your protest is upheld the rally leg will be thrown out (not scored).

One car with a driver and navigator is commonly referred to as a Rally Team. The car is assigned a number, usually a serial number starting with number 1. You will be given a "Start Time" specific to your car. If the rally is to begin at 1:00 pm, your Start Time may be 1:00 o'clock plus your car number in minutes. So if you have car number 5 your start time would be 1:05 pm. Therefor the cars go off at one minute intervals, programmed to run at the same speed, so they should not interfere with each other on the road. In other words you are going to be all alone, usually on some low traffic country roads.

Above all else, always follow the Route Instructions to stay on course. Instruction might say "Left at '1800 E'", where whatever is in quotes is quoted from a sign (street sign for instance). Instruction might say "Right at T", referring to an intersection where you might go left or right but cannot go straight ahead. Instruction might say "Left at third opportunity", which means pretty much what it says. Or instruction might just say "Left", which is same as "Left at first opportunity". Route Instructions are generally very simple. If there is anything more exotic to the instructions it must be well defined in advance, like in the General Instructions or at the Drivers Meeting prior to start of the rally.

Next item is the Odometer Check Distance (and time). This is commonly 10 miles (but not always), and you might be given 20 minutes to do it (depending on road conditions and distance). On arrival you should find an "ODO" sign placed on the side of the road designating the place that the rallymaster has designated as exactly 10 miles from the start point. This may or may not be exactly 10 miles, more likely designating 10 miles as indicated by the rallymaster's odometer (which may not be particularly accurate). So a key part of this game is to compare your indicated travel distance with the precisely specified distance to determine the Error in your odometer reading. If for instance your odometer recorded 10.3 miles to this point, you would need to add 3% to all distances and drive 3% faster to make those distances in the expected time. If your odometer said 9.8 miles, then you need to drive 2% slower to make the travel times come out right. It also helps somewhat if you have some idea about the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of indicated speed on your speedometer.

The next instruction will be something like "CAST 42", meaning Change Average Speed To 42 mph. Remember that 20 minute allowance for the ODO check leg? This means your "Out Time" from the ODO point will be 1:25 pm (1:00 plus your car number plus 20 minutes). So you blow out of there (uh, casually drive away) at 1:25 attempting to maintain an average speed of 42 mph. The key word here is "average", as you may encounter slow going twists and turns in the road, stop signs, rail road crossings, or perhaps even slow moving farm machinery. A sharp navigator may be crunching simple math with the pencil and clipboard, knowing that 42 mph is 60/42 minutes per mile, or 42/60 miles per minute, or 6/42x60 seconds for each 1/10 mile. If driver will read odo distance periodically, then navigator can tell if you are ahead of or behind schedule, and you may modify speed accordingly.

There will some definition of Main Road Rule or Primary Road Rule that tells you where the rally route goes in between instructions. If you come to an intersection and cannot execute the next numbered instruction, then you follow the Main Road or Primary road. The Main Road Rule might be "Straight as possible", meaning continue straight forward until directed otherwise. In this case, if the highway curves right, but there is a spur going straight forward at beginning of the curve, you go straight onto the spur. A Primary Road might be defined as following painted lines on the road, or following a continuation of same pavement type. In the same situation as above, you would follow the highway around the curve while ignoring the straight ahead spur. In a slightly more exotic situation the Primary Road may mean the route that is not encumbered by traffic controls, in which case you may have to recognize a Stop sign from the back side (but that's getting a bit advanced for this rally primer).

When you have a change of road condition or a change of posted speed limit, you often get an instruction for change of rally speed, like "CAST 27" for instance. At point of the speed change the driver can call the ODO reading, and navigator can make calculations accordingly, including time to the speed change point and time to the next convenient tick point after the speed change. There may be some additional supplementary instructions, like "Pause .2 at RRX", which means slow down and kill 2/10 of a minute (12 seconds) when you encounter a rail road crossing, or "Pause .5 at Traffic Signal" (half minute programmed delay allowance). Traffic signals are fair game, as long as there is sufficient time after the delay to make up the time without exceeding the speed limit.

If you get stopped by a train obstructing a rail crossing (or some similar unpredictable and uncontrollable delay) you may request a time delay allowance. There will be specific rules governing this process. Like for instance, if the delay allowance is more than 30 seconds it must be requested in some one minute increment starting at 1/2 minute. This will then position your car half way in between two other rally cars so they don't interfere with each other, especially when approaching a check point. Such request must be made immediately on arrival at a checkpoint before any timing indication is returned. There should be some evidence that you were unavoidably delayed, like the people in the rally car behind you may agree that they saw you being delayed by the train. There may also be an allowance for requesting a specific amount of time delay if your car is delayed within sight of the checkpoint. In this case you tell the checkpoint operator exactly how much time you request for the delay allowance, and the checkpoint operator is the witness to approve the allowance.

That brings us up to the checkpoint, something like the picture at top of page. You never know where this will be. It is common to hide the checkpoint just after crest of a hill, or just after a turn in the road. Or it may be in plain site only a short distance after a Stop sign, just to scramble your brains a little. I once saw a checkpoint just past an open intersection, but the route instructions required a turn first and going around the block before entering the checkpoint. In any case, you want to arrive at the checkpoint at the right time to score zero, as there are penalties for being either early or late, commonly one point for each 100th of a minute error. So if you miss the intended arrival time by 15 seconds you get 25 points. There may be other penalties, like 100 points for speeding or endangering people at a checkpoint, or for entering a checkpoint from the wrong direction (not unheard of). You may be penalized or even disqualified for any ticketable traffic violation, like driving around a lowered rail crossing gate for instance (remember the time delay allowance), or any kind of dangerous driving. The idea is to drive safely and to arrive alive, same as any other drive on a public roadway.

Common checkpoint procedure is to drive through the checkpoint at a reasonable speed, usually at the designated rally road speed, then park safely on the shoulder of the road and walk back to the checkpoint to pick up your Timing Card. This is called an "Open Control" where the clock stops when you pass the checkpoint, and will only re-start at a designated time. By the time you walk back to the checkpoint, the checkpoint operator will likely already have your arrival time recorded and written on your checkpoint ticket. The same ticket may also contain a new "Out Time" (a few minutes later) and an "Out Point" (location a bit farther down the road) where you are to begin the next leg of the rally (at a designated average speed). And so the rally continues with multiple and discretely separate timed legs, each leg being a sort of mini rally with separate scoring and a fresh start for the next leg.

There may also be any number of "Closed Controls", which is slightly counter-intuitive. It means there is no checkpoint operator, or that you do not stop here, something like a closed weigh station. The Close Control checkpoint will have a different type sign to clearly show that it is not an Open Control, and you do not stop there. In most cases there is a timing device, and your checkpoint time is recorded on the fly, and scores are calculated and added accordingly. I once ran the Press On Regardless rally in Michigan where there were 200 checkpoints in two days, but only eight open controls. The open checkpoints were roughly mid-morning, lunch break, mid afternoon, and finish for each day.

For a longer rally you may get an extended Pause for a lunch break or pit stop. This time may be during and Open Control with a new designated start time and start point. Or it may be a Pause of a specified duration in the middle of a timed rally leg. Time and location of the mid-rally break point may be specified in advance, just in case you get off course or lost, so you have a chance to re-join the rally. There will also be a specified meeting point at end of rally, so you can re-join the gang if you got lost. Most rallies will have tally of the scores and awarding of trophies immediately after end of rally. This is usually in a nice commercial location for Natter 'n' Noggin, but may otherwise be at a public park for a picnic or at someone's house for a party. The overall idea is to have some fun and enjoy the event, and hopefully come back again another time,

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