Simon de Banke’s company Stage One Technology provides - as WRC.com readers discovered last week - the safety tracking system for the championship, but as well as that Stage One Technology is also responsible for the timing of each and every car going through each and every control.
From the ceremonial start to the champagne-spraying finish, the S1T team is running the chronological show.
“Don’t forget, it starts before the start now though,” says de Banke. “On gravel rallies, we’re timing free practice and qualifying to a thousandth of a second.”
In fact, on any rally, the Stage One Technology job starts well before the crowds cheer their heroes away on the Thursday night of an event. The British-based firm sends a team of 10 people to every round. For new events, a crack-team of timing experts are dispatched months before the event to train the marshals and officials. On event, the rally’s timing team can mushroom towards 100 people depending on the number of stages and controls.
Being a true world championship, the challenge S1T faced was creating a timing system that made sense globally. Aside from the complex legal and licensing pitfalls of operating such a system around the world, it also meant simple things like ditching language altogether.
“It was an amazing task to develop something which was as intuitive to a marshal in France as one in Japan,” says de Banke. “We spent longer than you would expect working out how to do this, and revolved around things like getting rid of language on the timing control units. The control panels include a smiley face to indicate all is well, a sad face to indicate it’s not. The accept and cancel buttons are tick and crosses, the button to enter a car number is a car and to enter a time it’s a clock. It’s very easy - the English are especially bad at this - to just release equipment in your native tongue and expect everyone just to deal with it. We produce a system that is intuitive to operate and ultimately that means it performs better. But with a timing technician at the end of every stage and passing every control, we also provide total back up with our expert stage technicians on the ground.”
It’s a system that works around the world and is so good it’s almost taken for granted now. Here’s the kettle part.
“I like to think of us as a kettle,” says de Banke. “When people come down stairs in the morning, they don’t sit there praising the kettle for helping make them a cup of tea. But they’d be fuming if they couldn’t make their tea. I think it’s a compliment to think of ourselves as something so fundamental to the sport. It’s easy to get upset if nobody notices when you do a great job, but it’s actually a great compliment.” (Simon explains this better in his blog Notes on Being a Kettle)
But it’s no fluke that the Stage One Technology kettle always boils. Every aspect of the timing operation is monitored via Mission Control back in the United Kingdom. Complementing the on-event team, there are more people back at base crunching the numbers and analysing the data.
Even this week, with the two teams separated by the whole world, New Zealand and Warwick will be in constant contact to make sure the show runs smoothly.
“As well as making an intuitive system,” says de Banke, “we had to make it durable and taking it to places like the Safari Rally in Kenya in our early years was a good test! I’ve been involved in many business and many technology projects, but this has been the most challenging and interesting by a long way. We love this job. We’ve timed, I don’t know, 50,000 cars or more in the last decade and the passion is still as strong as ever.”