Dear RTW Race Committee,
As February 2010 draws near, and we start, once again, to think about the RTW Race, I have a few thoughts I would like to share with you Makers of Rules. This letter is not the result of collaboration with nor encouragement from my team mates. It's just me jabber-jawing on about a couple of things rattling around in my head.
I've been involved in this event since SOH's first year as a participant in 2005. I think two things have gotten slightly “out of control” over the years and could use a bit of “reigning in”: 1) Planning, and 2) Rules Complexity.
There was a time, long ago, when planning was actively discouraged in this event. The idea was that this was a fun event first, and it was thought that huge planning staffs on each team, micromanaging the entire race from start to finish, planning each leg, would not be in keeping with the “spirit” of the event. The next baton carrier would jump into his (or her) plane and head off into the general (hopefully) direction of the race course. At best, the destination airport was known, and maybe even scouted out for terrain “features”, lights, etc., but that was about it. This was the original reason the rules were only released 24 hours prior to the event, right? You didn't want teams to have the whole event mapped out to the smallest detail before the green flag even dropped. It's almost as though you knew, way back then, what would happen if planning got “out of control”, and you wanted to avoid it. Well, planning is now officially “out of control”, and that thing you wanted to avoid is here. The last race in 2009 was mapped out before the green flag dropped, by a dedicated and rather stressed out “planning staff”, down to every single leg, all the way around the world. When they (the planners) emerged from the smoke filled basement, all bleary eyed and gaunt from lack of food and sleep, clutching The Plan, well, all the fun was distilled out of the event. Where was the sense of adventure? The unknown? The fun? All gone. And now, as we begin to think about this year's race, already last years over-worked Planning General Staff is worried that there was not enough people planning last year, and this year, dammit, things better change. But some of us who have been around since 2005 have seen what happens when too many people start “planning”. The first thing to happen is that two “planners” inevitably disagree on some point of the “plan”, egos kick in, fun drains out. So we either have a “plan by committee” in which case there's too many people trying to plan, and people get stressed out and the fun goes away, or you have a small dedicated planning staff, in which case they get stressed out and angry that nobody is helping them plan, and the fun drains away. So how did we get here? This brings us to rules complexity...
In 2005 we had bonus airports, required stops, and the “wild card”. Now we have corridors, and “air bridges”, the wild card, a list of required planes, an airplane use-count limitation, a special event at both the start and the end of the race, regions where jets are allowed, more complex rules regarding the required planes, Team Flights, three kinds now, a new class of planes, the “Cabin Class”, which have different leg requirements than the other planes, and “bonus banks.” I'm guessing that the “bonus airport” list was cut down to almost nothing last year as an attempt to reduce the complexity, but the complex required aircraft rules, team flights, and cabin class all conspired to more than make up for the loss of complexity which resulted from dropping the bonus fields. The special aircraft requirement illustrates this “complexity creep” phenomenon well. When it was first introduced, the requirement was simply a list of planes (the “classics”) that had to be flown on at least one leg, with a leg length requirement. The 2009 race broke the required aircraft into three groups, aircraft from which had to be flown four times (each), and each group had a different leg length requirement. This made keeping track of “compliance” more complicated. These features of the race, bonus fields, required fields, team flights, cabin class aircraft, required aircraft, use-count, make planning the event necessary if there is to be any hope of winning the thing. All of these things either have bonus or penalty times associated with them and as such require a very complex plan, up front, to maximize the combined use of each feature, and avoidance of penalties.
What can be done?
Eliminate things that make keeping track of compliance more complicated. Loose the cabin class. Provide a list of required planes if you must (“classics”) but can we get back to just one list? Do we really need corridors and air bridges? I still couldn't explain what the difference is. Eliminate “use-count” limitations on airplanes. Somebody, after all, has to keep track of how many times each type of plane has been used! Who cares how many times I fly the P-38? I like the P-38! It's fun... Get bonus and penalty time back under control. This is why it's darned hard to track what's going on, which is why you had to invent another concept, the “bonus bank”, so the load wouldn't be entirely on you Rule Makers to keep track of it all. Have some bonus airports if you must (difficult approaches), but loose everything else that awards bonus points. Leg lengths? 700 NM, except for corridors and the wild card. That's it! Make it so that planning is not necessary anymore, and you won't see this thing over-planned. Then we can fire the planners (or free them) so they can fly legs instead of plan, and actually look forward to this event. It can be done.
I know a lot of these added features are the result of racers asking for them, or liking them a lot after their initial introduction. I know some people would find the race “boring” if were held using simple rules. But I can tell you for certain that some traditional faces you were used to seeing at these events in 2005 and 2006, have not been back, and the reason is the rules complexity. It's a fine line to manage, I suppose. I think it's worth trying.