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The Modified FIA Timing System

This article isn't about any tech equipment but it is a technical subject, so there you go. Ok, actually there is some equipment. You need a digital watch with a seconds readout, and it needs to be synced to the master clocks used by the rally.

Timing. How to know when to be somewhere is the second biggest key to rally competition. (The first is... don't get lost!) What is the whole point of this timing system, anyway? Why does it appear so complicated? Let's outline the goals that it is trying to achieve, and then perhaps you'll forgive us the complexity.

  • Prevent huge groups of people swamping the control volunteers. There is often also only limited physical space for the vehicles at the starts. This is why each vehicle starts on a one minute interval (or 30 seconds at larger events).
  • Control the movement of the competitors around the course so that all the other resources that the organizers have to move (volunteers, medical, radio people, timing equipment) can move on a known schedule.
  • Absolutely remove any incentive for a competitor to speed on a transit. Getting to the next point early only means you sit there and wait, and it won't move you in front of your competitors anyway.

There are really two timing things happening at the same time during a rally:

  1. The stage times, where you race balls out as fast as possible.
  2. Transiting from stage to stage, and servicing, where you're on a fixed time allowance.

Let's go through an example of the simplest rally ever. It has a start, one stage, and a finish. Without even bothering with what a time card might look like, since they vary from event to event, here's the breakdown:

  • You get 10 minutes to get from the start to Stage 1, 4 miles away.
  • You get 20 minutes to do the racing on Stage 1, which is 10 miles long.
  • You get 15 minutes to do the transit from the end of Stage 1 to the rally finish, a 9 mile trip.

OK! Here we go. We'll make things easy and say you were assigned a 10:00am start time. At exactly 10:00am you pull up to the start, the volunteer there writes 10:00 on your card, and putt-putt-putt down the road you go.

10:00 plus your 10 minutes allowed time means that your "in-minute" is 10:10. Bam! You've just calculated your first piece of the timing puzzle! Going four miles in 10 minutes is easy, less than 30mph. The organizers make sure you always have enough time for the transits.

So, 10:10 rolls around, and you can check in at the control any time between 10:10:00 and 10:10:59. That's why it's often referred to in discussion as "your minute", since you are the only one who's supposed to be going in during that time. The best thing to do, so that no one suspects you of jumping the gun, is to wait a few seconds, maybe till about 10:10:08 or so. Ride in and hand your card to the volunteer there. They write down 10:10, regardless of what second you entered.

Once "in the control", you just wait till you're told to start. You can't do any wrong (timing wise) once you're checked in. The plan is a three minute wait, then you start.

After a few minutes, the other riders have gone, and you are waved to the start. It's about 10:12:10. You give the volunteer there your card, and they write 10:13 on it, which is the next minute coming up, and that's when you're going to leave. Your card goes back in your pocket, they count you down 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! GO!!!!

You tear out of there and head for the finish. Eight minutes and 53 seconds later you cross the finish. Nice! The volunteer there gets your card and writes 10:21:53 on it.

Now the only thing left to do is figure out when to roll in at the finish. The important thing to remember is that it has nothing to do with how fast you went, only when you started the stage. Here's the formula:

Check In = Stage Start Time of Day + Allowed Time for the Stage + Allowed Time for the Transit.

You started at 10:13, plus the 20 minutes allowed for the stage, plus the 15 minutes allowed for the transit. 10:13 plus 20 plus 15 equals 10:48. So sometime between 10:48:00 and 10:48:59 you'll be checking in at the finish.

See? Easy!

Now here are some technical notes.

  • This is called the "Modified FIA System". You can read about it in more detail in the General Regulations for Rallies.
  • If for some reason you take longer than the allowed stage time to complete a stage, you still get your full transit time. But how to figure out your check-in time? Well, in this exception case only you take the time of day that you finished, drop all the seconds from consideration so it's just an even minute, and add the allowed transit time to that. This case is so rare that you don't have to worry about it when you're getting started, especially since, hey, if you had to stop to fix the electric system or whatever for 25 minutes, you won't be winning anyway, so it doesn't matter if you get a 10 second penalty for checking in at the wrong time.