How to Understand Car Rally Navigation Maps

Written by james t wood Google
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How to Understand Car Rally Navigation Maps
A road rally involves a driver and a navigator working as a team to get the fastest time on an open road course. (rally image by Rina from

Road rallies are races that take place on standard roads rather than a closed track, where a navigator and a driver plot the fastest course and compete as a team against other teams. Rally navigation has become somewhat specialised to allow the navigator to communicate quickly and precisely the information needed by the driver. Navigators have developed a shorthand for describing the rally route and with a little explanation you can read a rally map too.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Orient yourself to the map. Most rally maps will be highly detailed with a 1:50,000 ratio, where one unit of measure on the map is equivalent to 50,000 on the ground. One centimetre on the map would be 500 meters on the ground.

  2. 2

    Study the grid references provided. Rally maps are noted with numbered grids along the side and top. The side (or Easting) reference is provided first and the top (or Northing) reference is provided second. The grid section is given and then the fraction of the grid is given to specify the precise place on the map. For a vertical (Easting) grid, four and three tenths would be noted: 043. For a horizontal (Northing) grid, 51 and one tenth would be noted: 511, so the entire grid reference would be 043511. For even finer detail, some rallies will add an additional fraction of one quarter, one half, or three quarters of a tenth. Note in numerals this would be 04325 for grid four, three and one quarter tenths. The full grid reference might look like 0432551150.

  3. 3

    Draw the tulip illustrations on your map to check the route and accuracy. Tulips are pictorial representations of each intersection on the route, and depending on your rally organiser, they may or may not indicate the direction from which you should enter the intersection and the direction you should leave. If they indicate directions, you simply need to match the intersections listed with those on your map to find your route. If the directions aren't listed, you will need to test fit the tulips on the possible routes to determine the correct route by looking for the one route that has the intersections illustrated in the correct order.

  4. 4

    Find your route with a Herringbone illustration. In this rally navigation notation, the route is shown as a straight line and the intersections you pass are indicated as lines to the left or right of the "spine" of the herringbone. If you see a line to the right, you need to pass a road on the right---this may be a side road, or it might indicate a T intersection where you must turn left---and vice versa. If you see a V of two lines on the right or left, this means you must pass two roads on that side, so a V on the left would indicate a right-hand turn at a four-way intersection.

  5. 5

    Navigate by compass or clock directions. Some rallies issue the route in compass directions (either alphabetical or numerical) so you will know to go north at the first intersection, north west at the second intersection and west at the third intersection if you see: N NW W (0 315 270 using numerical compass directions). The clock face directions are similar except the top of the map is 12 o'clock, and the bottom of the map is 6 o'clock, so as you reach each intersection you will see a clock face number. From the example above you would see: 12 10 9.

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