While the circuit racers are still huddled inside shivering from the cold, or playing in the sand and turf in Daytona, rallyists are duking it out in the mountains above Monte Carlo. The crown jewel of the FIA World Rally Championship calendar is the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo, and this year, the rally showed why it should be one of the bucket-list events for any motorsport fan. Just looking at the final results will lead one to think that it was another dominant performance by Volkswagen and Sebastian Ogier, but early in the rally, Kris Meeke gave Ogier some serious competition, until a rock that had been drawn out onto the stage ripped off his sump guard and damaged his gearbox. There were other great drives, specifically Thierry Neuville in his Hyundai, and I encourage you to watch the highlight videos of the rally.
The big story, outside of Ogier’s victory, was Jari-Matti Latvala’s off on SS11. As Jari is well known for doing, he over-cooked a medium-speed right-hand turn and went wide. His momentum carried him into a rather deep ditch, doing significant damage to the car, but not to the point of undrivability. The car’s momentum, and Jari’s foot planted firmly to the floor, took the car past the ditch and into a line of spectators. All but one, a spectator trying to rescue his camera gear, got out of the way. The hapless photog (I use the term quite loosely here.) ended up getting a lot closer to Jari-Matti than he likely expected to be when the day began, staring at him from three feet away through his front windscreen. The spectator rolled off of Jari’s hood and onto the ground, thankfully without suffering any major injuries. Latvala continued back onto the stage and made it to the stage finish whereupon he was forced to retire due to the damage done to the car.
The first problem I noticed with the whole scene was the location of the spectators. Standing on the outside of a corner, especially at the exit of the corner, is NOT a wise place to be. If you have trees and some distance, you can make some allowances, but in the absence of either, the marshals should never have allowed spectators to stand there. Had there been cover, such as an elevated berm or a stand of trees, the location might not have been that bad, but unprotected as it was, it was a bad situation just waiting to happen.
Jari-Matti should have stopped.
Although steam from the engine compartment (likely vaporized ditch water) did obscure his and his co-driver’s view, the stewards, after reviewing the onboard video, felt that the Latvala or his co-driver, Miikka Anttila, absolutely knew they had struck a spectator.
…it would be hard to believe that the driver and/or co-driver had not realised that they had hit a spectator as the body could be seen quite prominently on the bonnet and right in front of the windscreen. — Official steward’s post-incident report.
To make matters worse, they told end-of-stage reporter, Julian Porter, that they knew they had struck someone and asked if the person was ok. There is a rule, 40.4, specifically, that mandates that even if there is a suspicsion that there has been an incident involving a non-crew member, that the car must stop immediately.
40.4 INCIDENT ON A SPECIAL STAGE INVOLVING A PERSON WHO IS NOT A CREW MEMBER
If a crew is involved in an accident in which a member of the public sustains physical injury, the car must stop immediately and the procedure as laid down in Art. 40.3.1 must be followed.
This was obviously not done, and the stewards issued a €5000 fine and suspended ban for one rally. In my opinion, this is certainly a fair ruling, although I don’t think I would have issued a suspended ban, but rather an outright ban.
Leave your gear, save yourself!
While the stewards should not have permitted spectators to occupy the position in the first place, the spectator in question did something that any experienced photog would never do. He went back to try and save his gear. This is why we insure our equipment. When it all goes pear-shaped, you have two options: stand and face the music, or run for cover. Cover is better. The spectator had bent down to pick up his camera when he saw Latvala bearing down on him. He’s quite lucky that he went over the car instead of under it. Even as a spectator, when out on stage, you should always have an egress route already in mind. Don’t stop and think, “Hmm… I wonder what direction I should run?” Already have that decided. This gentleman could have saved everyone a lot of grief had he simply had a plan and not worried about his camera.
If you’re not following the WRC yet, you should be. There’s rich manufacturer participation, and although Sebastian Ogier is certainly the man to beat, there are a number of strong contenders that are very capable of besting him on any given rally. Up next is the winter wonderland of Scandinavia and Rally Sweden. What are your thoughts on the incident? Was the ruling too harsh? Not harsh enough?