The American Rally Association announced on Friday that the 2021 Sno*Drift and 100 Acre Wood events would be used as a testing ground for the RallySafe tracking system.
According to a bulletin released by the ARA, competitors will be able to run the RallySafe system at no additional cost during the trial period with a rental kit that can be installed on race weekend, and returned at the end of the rally, or competitors can go ahead and purchase their own installation kit and have it ready ahead of time.
The RallySafe system, though new to the ARA, is used in many other racing organizations, including the WRC, and brings with it a long list of features that are expected to make the lives of competitors, volunteers, teams, and officials much easier.
ARA series and competition director, Preston Osborn, has confidence in the system’s abilities, stating, “It’s one of those rare situations where I think I can help everyone.”
One of the biggest differences between RallySafe and the currently used EZTrak system is that RallySafe provides each vehicle with a screen that can feed information to the driver and co-driver such as stage times, trip meters, speeding alerts during transit and notifications from Rally HQ.
The screen also allows for a litany of safety features that cannot be over-looked when considering the implementation of this system in a race.
The first is the ability to notify competitors any time there is a stopped car ahead of them onstage, and the assistance of counting down the meters until you reach the stopped vehicle.
When competitors do have an issue on stage and come to a stop, the screen can ask if the situation is OK, requires caution, or if an SOS signal needs to be sent out. If an SOS signal is sent out, cars still arriving to the scene will be notified that there is an emergency, and Rally HQ will be able to immediately start taking action.
Professional co-driver, Rhianon Gelsomino, has had experience with RallySafe in other parts of the world as far back as 2010, and stands by the safety of the system firmly.
Gelsomino, who is slated to be co-driving once again for Travis Pastrana in the 2021 season opener next month, says one of her favorite advantages of the RallySafe is how the system can report an accident even in the absence of the crew being able to operate the screen.
“Something I find very important is the RallySafe unit registers the g-forces of any accident a team may have.” says Gelsomino, “If the team has not responded with OK, SOS or Caution on their screen, RallySafe will notify the next car of the exact location of the stopped car and show a red screen indicating SOS.”
RallySafe will also immediately send an SOS if the accident is registered above 14G and there is a possibility of the crew being unconscious.
“Unfortunately in USA I know of three occasions where I have come across crashes in the last couple of years, where no one had stopped prior to me arriving as the car had not been seen,” says Gelsomino. “This is something that we want to try and avoid from happening.”
Beyond the safety advantages that the system offers, Osborn believes that RallySafe also has the ability to offer quicker, more accurate timing than currently exists in the ARA, and make for results to be released faster and more accurately than ever before.
RallySafe, at its core, is a timing system. It has a lot of other features, but its main function is to bring rally out of the analogue world of timesheets and stopwatches, and make running events easier for everyone at Rally HQ.
EZTrak has somewhat been able to help with this, but suffers some drawback in that it is predominantly a tracking system that has been put in place to be used as a timing system.
With RallySafe, competitors times will be displayed in car at the end of the stage, and reported back to Rally HQ automatically.
Check-ins and penalties (while verified by volunteers and race control for accuracy) can all be taken care of automatically and be immediately accounted for.
Fans, teams, and volunteers will be able to see more accurate times and even be able to track battles on stage, possibly down to the second, as they happen.
Osborn even admits that, having been a competitor in the past, it was frustrating having to wait long periods of time after a rally for results.
With all of these advantages, there is one drawback. Cost.
The trial period expenses are all being covered by the ARA and sponsors to prevent any additional competitor costs, but that’s not a guaranteed if the system is implemented fully.
On top of listening to competitor feedback from those using the system at Sno*Drift and 100 Acre Wood, Osborn will continue to work with sponsors and governing organizations to supplement the cost of RallySafe as much as possible in the event it is fully implemented, hoping to make the cost to competitors as small as possible, possibly even $0.
Gelsomino believes that regardless of cost, this system will be welcomed by competitors in the ARA once they experience it.
“From my knowledge and experience using the RallySafe unit, I know teams, support crews, organizers and families at home will want this product to stay for the future. I have no doubt in my mind,” she says.
“If the WRC sees RallySafe as the best safety and tracking system in the world of rally, we should feel very lucky that ARA has taken this step forward in our national series.
“Let’s not forget the nature of our sport has us competing in isolated parts of the country, with competitors spread minutes apart. So it is critical that the communication in case of emergencies in quick, clear and detailed.
“I have competed from amateur teams to full factory teams, with a big difference in budget and both sides of the field agree that this system is 100% worth the cost, which, by the way, is not that expensive considering the features and peace of mind it offers.
“The technology is 100% proven, as long as ARA follows the correct procedures, with the training and operation of the system. RallySafe is 100% needed and I can’t wait to start using it here in USA.”