Feature: First Timers!

On this weekend’s Arnold Clark/ Thistle Hotel Snowman Rally there will be a number of first-timer drivers and co-drivers, and since Drivers have the easy job, I thought a wee article to help first time Co-drivers would be a help. Not being intelligent or competent enough to write it myself, I sought help.

This article was written by one of Scotland’s top Co-drivers (who wishes to remain anonymous – far too modest and shy by half!) to whom I am truly grateful. I asked for a simple list of ‘Things To Do’ and I got this comprehensive countdown for first time Navigators/Co-drivers. It will not only be helpful to those contemplating their first event, but useful for forgetful old-timers too. Magic.

The Essential Co-Driver’s Guide ….

When I started rallying 14 years ago, my first rally was a terrifying experience, not due to the fact I was sitting in a Sunbeam beside a first time rally driver, but because of all the information and logistics I was supposed to know. It’s a responsibility which I don’t think I was fully aware of until after the event. Although I had read the Regulations (Regs) and everything else I thought I was supposed to, I would have appreciated more than anything a simple outline of the rally day ahead of me ….


• Download the Regulations and Final Instructions (Finals) and read and highlight the main points that you will need to know. It’s important to know the location of:
o Noise Test
o Scrutineering
o Rally Head Quarters and the time you are expecting to be there
• Make sure you collect the rally decals and have them applied to car before noise test
• Ensure your management crew and service crew have a set of maps, Regulations, Finals and know where they are supposed to be and when
• Ensure the crew have details of the hotel and you all have each other’s numbers stored in your phones
• Discuss with your management/service crew times to expect the rally car at the end of each stage and ensure, if management is allowed, that service crew members are aware of management areas and arrange a suitable location to meet. Making sure that if management is permitted what tyres they need to bring etc.
• Know your maximum permitted lateness, this can be found in the Regs. Usually 15 minutes penalty free but this can vary so always check, every rally
• Make sure you attend drivers briefing and listen carefully to the medics if they are providing a briefing re first aid. This is information you will take to every rally you compete in and is vitally important


Before I start any rally I check and double check the following is in my rally bag:
• Road Book
• Time Cards (or start ticket if collecting time cards at first time control)
• Pacenotes
• Map book
• Two watches (or stopwatches)
• Spare batteries for intercom
• Blue roll (for all sorts of emergencies)
• Cable ties (miracle fix all)
• Essential tools
• Tyre pressure gauge
• Plenty pencils and pens
• MSA blue book
• Copy of Regs and Finals
• Water for you and driver.
• Make sure you check your Start Time on the morning of the rally, and copy this into your time cards. Often cars drop out the evening before the rally, which means start times are adjusted accordingly.
• Check rally time and set both your watches. Rally time is usually held at Signing-On the night before the rally or failing this you will get rally time at the first Time Control
• Check to see which car and crew you are running behind on the road.
• Check there is no discrepancy between your Time Cards and Road Book for road section timings etc.
• Make sure you are familiar with Target Timing, this can be clarified from the MSA blue book.
• Make sure you are familiar with the route the rally takes between stages and clarify this with the overall maps of the rally.


• If possible, take plenty time to go through the DVD and Pacenotes with the driver present.
• Mark as you go through the DVD any changes that the driver may want, looking for key markers for brake points, Long crests etc.
• Marking notes is a very personal thing for every co-driver and this will change as you become more familiar with your driver etc.
• Make sure the pages of your Pacenote book don’t stick together. Many co-drivers like to fold the top right corner of the page, so that it is easy to turn over under pressure.
• Using Scotmaps notes, if you look in the bottom right corner of the page, a small boxed area indicates the following few corners of the next page so this is always a good way to clarify that you are following on to the correct page.
• Some co-drivers like to mark on the folded corner, the page number as an easy way to ensure your just turning a single page.
• Basic as this may seem, it’s really important to check that your notes are on the correct stage. You would be surprised by the number of times a set of stages can be repeated and in the heat of the moment you can forget to check your notes are in the correct order
• Another important check is on your way to the start line. Scotmaps always have a line at the top of the first page of the stage as an indication as to where the actual start line is. This may read ‘Notes start at a gate, next to layby on the right’. It’s very important to check this on the way to the start line, as sometimes, for various reasons the start line location can change. If the start line has been pulled back a little – in this case the organisers are usually very efficient in giving you an amendment before you start the stage. If however the start line has been moved further into the stage – if you start reading from the notes stage start – your calls will be out of sync which will cause more than a little panic in the car.
• Don’t worry if you lose your place in the notes, as from time to time, this can happen to even the best of co-drivers. If you do lose the notes – just make sure that you let the driver know that he / she is ‘on their own’ which allows them to drive with a little caution until you can pick up your place again. Don’t try to guess, as this stops you from concentrating on finding your place, and can cause driver extra stress. Best way to pick up your place is to look for markers such as junction numbers (highlighted on the stage with a post and white marker) or areas in the notes such as sharper corners or bridges / longer distances etc.
• There are all sorts of tips for marking notes and again this is a very personal thing. Some co-drivers don’t highlight their notes at all. Others use a highlighter pen to indicate areas of caution (such as sharper corners or bad crests or deceptive corners). Others use different colours for different things – the possibilities are endless.

My advice would be – for your first few rallies, mark the corners of a greater severity and any areas for caution. This allows you to scan the page quickly and when you see highlighted areas you can be aware to call these notes in plenty time and clarity so the driver can brake accordingly.


Give yourself time to become familiar with the Road Book. They are very detailed, using tulips for directional indication. They also have inter miles marked for each instruction, so if you have the luxury of a trip meter in the car – this allows you to be confident where the next junction / direction is.

Best advice I can give you though, is to start as you mean to go on, and always carry a map in the car with you and follow this even although you have a trip meter. At some point in your career, you will sit in a car with no trip meter and feel lost without it. It is great as a clarification, but there is no security like knowing exactly where you are on a map. In addition, from time to time you will be given re-route directions (if a stage is cancelled, etc) at these times a map is vital to getting you to the next stage.

Make sure you highlight areas on your Road Book where there are PR problems and a reduced speed limit is enforced. Also highlight Passage Controls and areas for refuelling. Also Management Areas will be designated in the Road Book so make sure you are familiar with this.

At the start line of each stage I always go through the same routine:
• Mark on your time card your actual stage start time
• Place time cards away safely when the start marshal has finished marking
• Change the page of your Route Book ready to read from the finish of the stage you are about to start and place this in a safe place also.
• Get ready to start your stop watch – check your driver is ready
• Get ready to countdown to stage start clearly


Guard these with your life …. Make sure you put them somewhere safe while on stage.
I always opt for tucking them under my leg, but again personal preference.
Time cards are pretty self explanatory – but become familiar with them before the morning of the rally.
Always check your car number is on each card.

Most important thing to check is your stage time at the Stop Line. Always check the time on the card before you allow the driver to move off the Stop Line. It is your responsibility to check this time and make sure you are happy that it corresponds with the time on your stopwatch. Marshals stand out in the freezing cold / rain for long periods of time for the benefit of our enjoyment, it is only too easy for handwriting to become a little illegible or numbers to blur into one another so always check this is correct before moving away.
Check every time that you enter and double check it.


Before the start of a rally – make sure you discuss with the driver and service crew and calculate the amount of fuel you will require for each leg of the rally. Make sure you calculate enough reserve to allow for any re-routes etc. Most rallies now have a designated refuel area, always double check that the car is fuelled. It is easy to assume that this is somebody else’s responsibility. Also check if refuel is allocated within service time or is this allocated in your road section time, this will determine when you have to leave.

I always have a countdown timer pre-set on my watch to correspond with service time. This takes a lot of human error out of the equation and allows you to relax a little.
Before rally start – pre-set service time into your watch.
When you arrive at service, once you reach service in time, start your countdown timer. This way you have an accurate time remaining in service. If repairs are needed it means you can keep the crew updated with how long they have remaining until the service out time is due. It also allows you to calculate penalty free lateness a little easier.
Sometimes service crew will write Service Out time on a white board or similar so that everybody can clearly see time remaining.
Always make sure you check where your Service Out control board is located. From time to time the Service Out board is located quite a distance away from actual service to allow for a refuelling area etc. Make sure you leave enough time to travel there within your allocated time. If Service Out is a MTC (Main Time Control) any lateness here would incur larger penalties.


Sounds basic but always make sure you are familiar with the set up of the car.
• Ensure your seat belts are fitted correctly, before rally morning!
• Make sure you know where the jack and wheel brace are located in the car.
• Best advice I can give is practice, practice and practice again your tyre changes. If the worst happens and you get a puncture early in the stage, it will be necessary to change the tyre, which means the slicker the procedure is, the fewer places you will drop in the rally.
It’s best to have a discussion with the driver, for the longer stages, at which point would they consider stopping to change a tyre and when to carry on. This will of course depend on the severity of the puncture, how successful a day you’re having and how far into the stage you are.

Become familiar with your aspects of the tyre changing procedure. If you do have to stop on stage to change tyres, make sure you mark on Notes where you have stopped and ensure you’re strapped back in before you head away. Also make sure you don’t pull out in front of another car, although your day has been spoilt it would be extremely frustrating for a driver to be catching your dust.
Make sure you carry spare intercom batteries, if this is not directly wired into the car. If this is the case always try and remember to switch intercom off between stages to save batteries, so you don’t run out mid stage.

On a serious note – nobody wants to think about crashing. However, it is a very important consideration before you start any rally. Make sure you are familiar with where the SOS/OK board is located in the car. If you are unlucky enough to go off, once you have ensured that neither you or the driver needs assistance, make sure you display your ‘OK’ board clearly for the next driver to see. Make sure you are familiar with the use of Rallitrack radio and call Rally HQ to let them know you are ok. The number is always printed on the bottom of each page of your road book.


The rallying community is a fantastically supportive environment. There is no such thing as a stupid question (it will have been asked before you by probably the majority of co-drivers), rally drivers/co-drivers are only too happy to help. We are all still learning, no matter how many years experience we have under our seatbelts. That’s what makes rallying so fantastic, we can always strive to be better and work together better as a team. Although the driver is always expected to listen to the navigator … it is equally important for the navigator to listen to the driver. You are each placing a huge amount of trust in each other, so it is vitally important to know how your driver would like his Notes read, the more relaxed you can make your driver and the more trust that they can place in you, the more they can concentrate on driving you through the stages quicker. Time is well spent in preparation.

Assumption is the mother of all cock ups …. check and double check EVERYTHING.

Remember to enjoy every second. Your first rally experiences will stay with you for the rest of your life, so make sure they are fond ones!

And can I emphasise one point our star co-driver mentioned – if in doubt, ask. If you’re unsure of anything, ask one of the organising team, or the Competitor Relations Officer, or another Co-driver. Honestly, we’ve all been there before and experience has proved that they are all willing to help – just don’t ask me, I know nowt! JB