LATVALA HANDED A SUSPENDED BAN
Finn goes before stewards after hitting spectator on Monte
Volkswagen’s Jari-matti Latvala has been handed a suspended one-rally ban from the World Rally Championship after knocking a spectator down during last week’s Monte Carlo Rally.
The Finn went off the road on the exit of a right-hander in the second run at the Lardier et Valenca-faye stage. His Volkswagen Polo R WRC ran along a ditch on the outside of the corner before hitting a culvert, which threw the car up onto the side of the road. Latvala then drove into a spectator knocking him down. The spectator is not believed to have been injured in the incident.
Latvala denies seeing the fan. His rally ended when he ran out of time trying to fix the car’s damaged suspension.
The issue is clouded by a written statement from WRC TV stage end reporter Julian Porter, who told the stewards: “Both driver and co-driver of the number two Polo were working on the front-left suspension when Jari-matti called me over to tell me something. Jari said to me: ‘When we went off we hit a spectator, we did not hit him hard, but can you please check he is OK?’ And could I get in touch with somebody who could do this.”
That statement put Latvala in contravention of Article 40.4 of the FIA WRC Sporting Regulations, which states the crew is obligated to stop at the scene of an incident to check on the well-being of the spectator they have hit.
After reading Porter’s words in the stewards’ meeting, Latvala denied that was exactly what he had said.
Latvala recalled saying: “Can you go and confirm with the marshals that I haven’t hit anybody.”
The stewards decision states: “Upon being questioned who informed him and when he was informed that he had hit a spectator, he could not reply precisely.”
The stewards fined Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila 5000 euro and handed them a one-event ban suspended until the end of the season.
Latvala apologised for the incident, saying: “I would first like to stress that I am very sorry about what happened. We came off the very slippery road after a right turn, skidded into a ditch and came out in a field. My visibility was hampered briefly by thick steam from the engine and mud that had sprayed up from the ditch. I saw a spectator jump to the side and drove slowly back to the road. The team contacted me after the stage and informed me that I had touched a spectator. As I said, I am very sorry about the whole incident.”
In a further communication from the team, 24 hours later, Latvala added: “My co-driver Miikka Anttila and I fully accept the stewards’ decision. The safety of spectators and participants must take top priority at any rally. Miikka and I are in absolutely no doubt about that. We very much regret the incident and will do everything possible to avoid this kind of thing happening again in the future. At the same time, we are pleased that the spectator got off so lightly this time, and that nothing serious happened.”
Volkswagen team principal Jost Capito said anybody who knew Latvala would know he would not drive away after knocking down a spectator.
“I believe him that he hasn’t seen him,” Capito told MN. “There was so much steam and mud in the screen. I think he saw something, but he did not see the guy on the bonnet. Jari-matti is not the guy who would not stop if he realised he had hit somebody. You know, this guy is crying when a fly hits his windscreen.”
On the subject of the conflicting reports to the stewards from Latvala and Porter, Capito said: “I don’t think you can say every word, word-by-word. What this shows is what Jari-matti’s character
is like. He was repairing the car, but he wanted to know, if he hit somebody, he wanted to know if they were alright. I think that influenced the stewards to understand that Jari-matti doesn’t just care about the car and the rally, he cares about the people.”
Despite feeling Latvala was innocent of contravening the FIA regulation, Capito said he thought the penalty was fair.
“If you do something wrong, it doesn’t matter if you do it on purpose or not, you do something wrong,” he said. “And it was not right. If he sees people around him, he could have stopped and asked: ‘Is everybody fine?’ That would have been the right reaction. This is why the decision is fair, it’s not a ban.”
Capito added that he was confident Latvala would recover from this blow, saying: “He is professional. He very much appreciates how the team handled it and stands behind him.
“The whole situation was handled totally professionally, on the PR side, on the technical side, on the human side. That helps Jari-matti a lot to be in a good position for Sweden.”
Volkswagen’s attempts to contact the spectator to enquire about his health have proved fruitless.
“We went through Facebook and social media to try to contact him,” said Capito. “We didn’t achieve that, but the guys who were in the same place came back to us and said: ‘It’s OK, no problem’.”