DirtFish’s Secret Co-driver: Garage notes

The first entry from our newest columnist - whose name will remain unsaid

The Secret Co-Driver

How’s lockdown going for you? I know, it’s not ideal. But, I doubt there has ever been quite so many clean and tidy garages, attics and lofts around the world as there is right now.

Before we dive back off down the lanes, a quick aside: what’s the difference between an attic and a loft? Strange the questions that come to you with a bit of time on your hands.

Anyway, tidying out the garage last week, I inevitably found a box of maps, roadbooks and rally programmes which took me on another trip down memory lane. These were from a time when I was competing in the UK for a while, doing as many rallies as I could every weekend before I left and headed aboard again.

Looking back, I wonder how I ever actually got any real work done at that time. I seemed to be constantly preparing for the next event. At that time, very few British rallies used pacenotes. A few used descriptive route notes, but mainly we were working off maps.

Now, as we all know, marking your maps was illegal. Cars were regularly stopped and map bags searched and any piece of annotated cartography would be dealt with severely. Usually by exclusion I think. I don’t know, I never got caught.



Personally, I don’t think I did anything wrong. It’s true that you were not allowed to write on your maps at all. But you were allowed to mark out the road itself. Essentially, that meant you were allowed to highlight the road being used as stage on an Ordnance Survey map.

But the regulations weren’t specific enough to say what colour pen or how many colours of pen you could use.

The Secret Co-Driver

We were using 1:25,000 scale maps and the roads on those maps were drawn disproportionately; a three-meter-wide road would just be a thin line on a map, but they were always just about wide enough that you could draw a line down each side of the road. Using both sides of the road and different coloured pens – along with the odd occasional dotted line, possibly with different sized dots – you could include plenty of detail without breaking any rules.

A green line marking the road could, for example, mean a very fast stretch. A green line interrupted with a red section in one corner, could mean a lot of caution was needed in that particular section corner.

Add in the dots to mean, cut or don’t cut and you can see how you could suddenly end up with plenty of detail.

One of the great things about rallying in the early 1990s in Britain was doing the RAC. More importantly, doing the recce for the RAC Rally. Doing that gave you, quite legitimately, a very descriptive set of notes that could be transcribed onto a map via those lines, dots and the odd symbol.

I remember, after doing a couple of RACs, if I found a section which was not mapped terribly accurately, I would go back through the notes and try to memorise a section of pacenotes. This wasn’t particularly difficult, it’s just like learning some lines for a play. When we came to that section, I would stop calling off the map and recite the notes, before the map became more accurate again and we could get back on that.

I remember doing just this in Wales on a national rally.

“Off the map,” I shouted to my driver. “Now long left six, 100, right two tightens to hairpin. Fifty crest, left six minus and 200 past lay-by.”

Occasionally you’d put the odd lay-by into the notes just as a visual reminder for the driver – it was a sort of comfort blanket kind of thing. Served no real purpose.

I was so chuffed, knowing our speed in and out of the hairpin was way better than anything anybody else would have managed and coming over that crest, my driver was absolutely flying.

Yes, we were taking seconds out of our rivals here…

Eyes down and onto the map, imagine my horror when, in a volley of expletives we’re hard on the brakes and all locked up.

“What on earth’s he doing?”

I looked up just in time to see us piling through a locked gate. Between the end of the RAC Rally and the start of this event, the road had been re-routed through the lay-by.


Was that cheating? I don’t think so. I’d call it using my initiative.

But if you want to know more about cheating and using illegal pacenotes, tune in next time…