Finn goes be­fore stew­ards af­ter hit­ting spec­ta­tor on Monte

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

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’.”

Jari-matti re­tired from podium po­si­tion

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