On the hunt for Pokemon Go!

It is hard to forget the addictive game that took the world by storm not so long ago, and for the past two weeks, competitors on the 2017 Dakar Rally have been hunting down Pokemons in South America...

The only difference is that here, the Pokemons are called WayPoints, which are GPS coordinates that the organisers have positioned virtually along the event’s timed sections. Competitors must pass close by them in order to trigger them.

In cross-country rallying, co-drivers work with a hard copy of the road book, which indicates the directions that should be followed and warns of any potential hazards along the way. Meanwhile, a GPS provides information on headings, speed and the WayPoints.

Over the course of each timed section, there are several WayPoints that must be validated. Being virtual, they might be found concealed at the bottom of a river bed, on top of a sand dune or deep in the vegetation... Any WayPoint that is missed incurs a hefty time penalty at the end of the stage, with the threat of outright exclusion from the event for serial transgressors. They also come in three different guises: Safety WayPoints (WPS), Visible WayPoints (WPV) and Masked WayPoints (WPM).

The new addition amongst them this year is the Masked WayPoint. These feature in the road book, but do not appear on the GPS. Competitors must get to within 800 metres of them to trigger them and less than 200 metres to validate them. If they miss a WPM, participants are alerted at the following WayPoint and must turn back to find it. That is why many vehicles have been seen travelling in the wrong direction this year, or quite literally driving around in circles to successfully activate a WPM.

Indeed, there has been no shortage of navigational errors, even by some of the sport’s most experienced co-drivers. In devising the regulations, the Dakar organisers were keen to put navigation back at the heart of the event’s challenge. It is fair to say that in recent years, the increasing development and proliferation of geo-location apps such as Google Maps has meant that co-drivers have not really been venturing into the unknown. This year, however, the Masked WayPoints and a less detailed road book have made their job significantly harder...

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