The organisation of rallies at all levels – from the World Rally Championship to regional rally competitions – puts heavy emphasis on the safety of crews and spectators. Since 2008, the Autoclub of the Czech Republic (ACCR) with Rally Zlín s.r.o. as a service organization has been using specially-designed security systems to improve and safeguard the lives of competing rally drivers and officials.
At that time, all rally cars were required to be equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking unit. Since the public is also increasingly looking for more information about the competitions online, the Czech GPS safety tracking system is also able to meet those demands. Jan Regner, a member of the ACCR Safety Committee, said: “GPS units installed in each rally car automatically send the GPS coordinates of the vehicle along with other important data to the system’s server. All those working in rally control are then able to monitor the vehicle’s progress and location through a common internet browser.”
Due to the nature of the satellite system involved in GPS, it is necessary to also use additional transmission technologies for sending location data and displaying required information on the rally control screens.
Generally there are five basic possibilities to send the information. Data can be transmitted via satellite or airplane, although these options are fairly expensive. A cheaper option is transmission through the radio network, while the least expensive is through GSM / GPRS, meaning the Global System for Mobile Communications and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). However, the problem with the latter is that some locations are not set up for GSM transmission. The solution used by the ACCR for data transfers from racing cars is a combination of GSM / GPRS and a private radio network running on a reserved frequency, which is nearly the cheapest option and, most importantly, is able to cover all areas of the rally course.
Regner said: “In rally sport, it is not possible to use the basic equipment for standard car tracking in normal traffic. The security and health of the crew depend on the quick and instantaneous delivery of the message, so the data must be sent to rally control in real time. Rally is often carried out in forests and mountains where the availability of GSM service often cannot be guaranteed.
Therefore, the Czech GPS tracking system uses additional private radio networks at these locations. This network is installed by the GPS provider to cover all parts of the special stages. This is the only method to guarantee immediate delivery of the data from the car to rally control.” The Czech GPS safety tracking system consists of two basic parts - the GPS holder and the GPS unit itself. The GPS holder is installed in the rally car for the whole season. A certain number of temporary GPS holders are also available if necessary for visiting drivers. The GPS holder is powered by the car battery but also contains reserve battery, a siren and other devices.
The GPS unit is installed in the rally cars before the event and removed at the end. Inside the unit are several important components including a unique hit-sensor which three-dimensionally measures acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle.
Regner said: “In 2008, the ACCR bought 400 GPS holders and 200 GPS units. Therefore, all the rally cars in the Czech Republic have their own GPS holder, making it very easy to operate with the GPS hardware during the rally.”
A GPS Control Panel provides for straightforward management of the system. A switch allows for changing between system modes – ‘SS’ mode at the start of the Special Stage and ‘Liaison’ mode at the end. A push button allows the driver to call for help.
The GPS provides many different types of information to the rally control centre including the actual position and speed of the car, condition of the vehicle and stopping, various alarms in case of an accident or call for help, and the unit mode (SS or liaison).
Although the time has come for the whole rally world to embrace the GPS tracking system, not all clubs have the technical knowledge and equipment to begin operating this technology. For this reason, the ACCR gave a number of presentations about the benefits of GPS in rallying at the FIA-Central European Zone seminar in Zagreb, Croatia, and at a safety seminar held in Dar es Salaam.
Regner said: “After several years of using the Czech GPS tracking system, many updates and improvements to the system have been completed. One thing that’s for sure is this feature has a future in the field of rally monitoring. Since it has such small requirements for operating staff, our experience in the Czech Republic has shown that this system can potentially be used all over the world to improve rally monitoring and operations.”