22 days until the 2011 Dakar Rally New rules: tricky task for the Volkswagen navigators From the perspective of the co-drivers Volkwagen's battle for victory at the 2011 Dakar Rally will be fought under clearly changed conditions: Carlos ...
22 days until the 2011 Dakar Rally
New rules: tricky task for the Volkswagen navigators
From the perspective of the co-drivers Volkwagen's battle for victory at the 2011 Dakar Rally will be fought under clearly changed conditions: Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (E/E), Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D), Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA) and Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D) have to adjust to new rules which make finding the right route even more difficult than before.
While navigating the South American terrain the co-drivers rely on the information in their roadbooks and assistance by the GPS system the role of which, however, fundamentally differs from those of conventional navigation systems in passenger cars. Whereas satellite navigation in normal road traffic serves the purpose of assisting drivers in reaching their destinations as precisely as possible, the electronic functions in sporting competitions are drastically reduced and primarily used for checking purposes. The reason is that at the end of the day the navigational skills of the co-drivers instead of those of the systems are to decide who finishes successfully. On each of the 13 legs the teams have to head for various way points which the system registers - otherwise the entrants risk severe sporting penalties. Even in the past the so-called WPMs (Way Points Masked) were not suitable for wide-ranging navigation because the GPS system would only make them visible after the vehicles came within a three-kilometre radius of the particular WPM. Only then would the system direct the teams to this geographic coordinate. As soon as the rally vehicle was within a 200-metre distance the system would register the way point as having been reached and stop its guiding function. Now the three-kilometre radius has been reduced to 800 metres.
"Initial plans had even been for just 400 metres," explains co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, who won the 2009 Dakar Rally with Giniel de Villiers in the Volkswagen Race Touareg. "But that would have meant that the GPS function up to entering the target range would only have been active for a total of 200 metres. At a driving speed of 100 km/h this would have amounted to just 7.2 seconds - minus a response time when the function was activated at the beginning of the target range. Even for us pros this is a very, very short time span. For amateurs or, worse yet motorcycle riders, who are running at the same time and have to navigate this period would have been much too short. They would have probably gotten lost, might have had to turn around and would have caused oncoming traffic that way. Therefore, the organisers doubled the radius from 400 to 800 metres, which is a sensible decision."
But even the reduction from 3,000 to 800 metres now makes it clearly more difficult to find the way points which have to be reached. "We'll have to head for them at lower speeds," says Dirk von Zitzewitz. "This is perfectly in line with the organiser's intention. It elevates the importance of navigating in relation to driving, in other words the weighting of the roles of the drivers and co-drivers. I'm personally pleased about this new challenge. It'll make the task more difficult but also more interesting."
Another new factor: In previous years detailed information about the route was made available as early as at the beginning of December. "In the past, knowledge of the starting location of the stage, the arrival route, information about the special stage distance and the remainder of the leg up to the next bivouac allowed us to work out the areas in which the special stages would take place," analyses Dirk von Zitzewitz. "This year only the total distances of the transport stages and the special stages are available. This makes it nearly impossible to estimate the actual route. As a result, the Christmas holidays will be a bit less busy for me. But the situation will be even more hectic than before after 30 December as we will only receive more detailed information about the route during scrutineering."
With a higher ratio of off-road terrain to existing track roads having been announced for 2011 the teams are expecting a more thrilling and more demanding route. The new navigation rules will change the competition as well and might also level the results in the field of entrants as navigation pros can no longer achieve as large an advantage through their preliminary work as they could before. For as many as 31 years the event has been thrilling a worldwide audience by offering a sporting competition that involves both amateur and professional rally racers. Volkswagen won the classic for the first time in 1980 and caused a sensation when the brand was the first diesel-powered winner with TDI technology in 2009 and 2010.