The fastest thing in the WRC is Stage One Technology. Take next week as an example: Loeb will be racing down the Brother Rally New Zealand roads at a fair pace, but the box of tricks inside his Citroen DS3 WRC will be bouncing back the vital tracking data at... wait for it 24,000 miles per second. That’s quick.
The reason we know how quickly it travels is because, for the first time, Stage One Technology, the FIA’s safety tracking and timing supplier to the WRC, has opened the doors to its James Bond-style Mission Control Centre in the United Kingdom. And it’s a little bit mind-boggling.
All the cars competing on a WRC round have a safety tracking box fitted inside. A GPS satellite broadcast signal is sent to the cars in the same way it is sent to the satnav system in your road car. That signal, converted to a data message in the Stage One Technology tracker inside the car, is sent via a Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) radio modem to a repeater aircraft which is constantly flying at 20,000 feet above the event itself.
In the plane, the messages are connected by a piece of kit doing the same job as telephone switchboard operators - except a million times faster. The message is then blasted back to the service park, where it is received by an enormous antenna on the top of Stage One Technology’s Technology Control Truck in service.
So, the news that the car is on the move is back in service. But that’s only part of the data journey. That data still has to be checked, double-checked, filtered and analysed for authenticity. The first part of that work is done in service via Stage One Technology’s on-event server, but the main part is done back in Mission Control in Warwick, England.
So, having been to the plane and back, the data travels to England, via the internet, where it is gathered by another server in the surgically spotless and sparkling Stage One Technology base.
But what happens when the internet goes down? Given the incredible geographical locations the WRC visits - including threading its way through the highest mountains in Europe to some of the most remote parts of South America - this can and does happen.
But Stage One Technology is covered; even if the internet blows up, Stage One Technology’s global satellite back-up communication system takes over. The only problem is, if the net is down, the satellite takes ages - it takes two seconds instead of one for the news of Loeb’s latest win to be received.
Stage One Technology boss Simon de Banke says: “These systems represent €14m of investment and 10 years of tireless dedication from our amazing team. The WRC is a unique challenge - but if it wasn’t so difficult it wouldn’t be so much fun!”
Visit WRC.com soon to find out more about the WRC timing service.