Motor Sport News - - Rally Safety - Pho­tos: Bob Sketch­ley, Mark Writ­tle

ri Vata­nen, Stig Blomqvist, Colin Mcrae. What do th­ese driv­ers have in com­mon? They’re all Bri­tish Rally cham­pi­ons. Now, close your eyes, and pic­ture the scene.

Stage ral­ly­ing in the UK is banned. No Roth­mans-liv­er­ied Legacy side­ways on the Manx; no black beauty Shell Oils Es­cort and no Audi Sport quat­tro with a crazy Swede at the wheel. No smell of fuel and gravel in the forests. Noth­ing.

With a chain of events start­ing with the Snow­man Rally in 2013, in the last three years, stage ral­ly­ing has not just been un­der threat, it’s been a whisker from an­ni­hi­la­tion.

The spec­ta­tor fa­tal­i­ties on the Snow­man, and the Jim Clark Rally in 2014, led to the gov­ern­ing body in the UK, the Mo­tor Sports As­so­ci­a­tion, hav­ing to re­spond to its stake­hold­ers.

Af­ter the Jim Clark in­ci­dent, the Scot­tish Govern­ment called for a re­view, which be­came known as the Mo­tor­sport Event Safety Re­view (MESR), and si­mul­ta­ne­ously the Scot­tish po­lice em­barked on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion which con­tin­ues into a 19th month with no sign of a con­cludimg date. It’s the big­gest po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion ever un­der­taken af­ter a rally in Scot­land. Bar none.

The re­view is­sued a re­port in Jan­uary, and as it moved to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions, the MSA came in for some very harsh crit­i­cism from the ral­ly­ing fra­ter­nity. How­ever, far more was at stake.

MSA chief ex­ec­u­tive Rob Jones says: “Al­most im­me­di­ately I was happy to com­mit the MSA to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 29 rec­om­men­da­tions aris­ing from the re­port. There were many peo­ple who thought we were overreacting, that the sport was safe enough, that the gov­ern­ing body was med­dling in things that should be left to the or­gan­is­ers of events. In short, that we didn’t need to be as re­spon­sive as I felt we should. What they didn’t know how­ever, is that our stake­hold­ers, in par­tic­u­lar the Forestry Com­mis­sion and our in­sur­ers, were very, very con­cerned in­deed.”

It was made clear over a se­ries of meet­ings that un­less the MSA com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions, the use of the forests would be with­drawn.

Jones con­tin­ues: “We met with key ex­ec­u­tives at the Forestry Com­mis­sion with around 20 del­e­gates in at­ten­dance. I was left in no doubt what­so­ever that un­less we were able to show a com­mit­ment to the re­port, that quite frankly we would not be go­ing back in the forests. This was par­tic­u­larly wor­ry­ing be­cause they would have found that very easy as the mas­ter agree­ment was in its last year, so they wouldn’t have to break any bind­ing agree­ments. They were able to say ‘thank you and good­bye’. This wasn’t an empty threat, they were rep­re­sented at both se­nior ex­ec­u­tive and se­nior health and safety ex­ec­u­tive lev­els.”

Let’s get one thing straight here. The Forestry Com­mis­sion isn’t a group of big bad wolves try­ing to end stage ral­ly­ing. They’ve worked very closely with the MSA in de­vel­op­ing the new 2016 safety reg­u­la­tions and should be cred­ited for their open­ness and for­ward think­ing. But who could ar­gue with their re­ac­tion to the prospect of peo­ple dy­ing in the forests? We’re not talk­ing about trou­ble- causers climb­ing trees here. We’re dis­cussing the loss of hu­man life.

An­other key el­e­ment the MSA had to con­sider was in­sur­ance, as Jones ex­plains.

“We have a very good safety record [as a gov­ern­ing body] and be­cause of that we do have a very good re­la­tion­ship with our in­sur­ers and be­cause of that our pub­lic li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance pre­mium – I think – is not un­rea­son­able. Ac­ci­dents can jeop­ar­dise that. In a meet­ing with the in­sur­ers – which will re­main pri­vate – it was again made clear to me that there were sig­nif­i­cant ex­pec­ta­tions on their be­half and they had to be met.

“It wasn’t as sim­ple as just lis­ten­ing to what the sport wanted any­more, we had to lis­ten to the stake­hold­ers oth­er­wise we wouldn’t be able to af­ford com­pe­ti­tions [be­cause of a high in­sur­ance pre­mium] and we wouldn’t have any­where to have them ei­ther [with the loss of the forests]. It was per­fect storm in many ways for ral­ly­ing.”

The MESR is­sued 29 rec­om­men­da­tions fol­low­ing its in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Jan­uary, and up to now the MSA has al­ready im­ple­mented 21. They fo­cus on the en­cour­age­ment of spec­ta­tor safety, mar­shal and me­dia ac­cred­i­ta­tion and the in­tro­duc­tion of a safety del­e­gate with the power to end stages for safety rea­sons to name a few.

The full im­ple­men­ta­tion is sched­uled to be com­pleted by Jan­uary 1 2017 and the MSA has also de­vel­oped its own meth­ods to im­prove safety, such as changes to the run­ning or­der on ral­lies.

“When I saw Mo­tor­sport News [af­ter the Wyedean Rally in Fe­bru­ary 2015] , I saw a pic­ture in the Read­ers’ Pho­to­graphs sec­tion – I saw a pic­ture and thought. ‘what is that man stand­ing there for?’,” ex­plained Jones. “It was only when I looked in more de­tail that there was some­one ly­ing length­ways on the floor prone at the edge of a cor­ner. It’s not fair on any­body for peo­ple to be ir­re­spon­si­ble to the point where our sport could be lost for­ever. Once it’s gone, you don’t get it back. We’ve seen this in coun­tries where there have been hor­rific ac­ci­dents. Once the fa­mil­iar­ity, ethos of some­thing is lost it’s very dif­fi­cult to get it back. Try hav­ing five years off and then try­ing to per­suade the Forestry Com­mis­sion and the in­sur­ers to let us back in the forests, I can tell you what their an­swer would be: for­get it.

“One of the con­se­quences of what I saw on the Wyedean was that we asked our­selves why did this hap­pen? The an­swer we were given is the spectators ar­rived later in the event as they weren’t as in­ter­ested in see­ing the slower cars at the be­gin­ning of the event. I think that’s very dis­re­spect­ful to those crews as they should be sup­ported equally, but recog­nis­ing that from a safety point of view it meant the gen­eral regulation that fastest first needed to be re­it­er­ated and re­freshed.

“There has been a re­ac­tion to that – cat­e­gory 1 His­torics [pre­vi­ously al­lowed to run at the front to pro­tect their cars from ruts and dam­age] has ef­fec­tively failed as a form of stage ral­ly­ing as a re­sult [of the re­it­er­ated fastest first regulation] and I can un­der­stand that but we have to look at the big pic­ture. I’m very pleased to see in 2016 there will be a Tar­mac cham­pi­onship for those cars, which is great.”

There’s no doubt that in places ral­ly­ing has suf­fered from the new reg­u­la­tions. Events are un­der greater scru­tiny and un­der greater fi­nan­cial bur­dens to make sure they run prop­erly. But the MSA con­tin­ues to give back to the sport in a way many sport­ing bod­ies wouldn’t dream.

“In 2014 we gave back a per­cent­age of per­mit and in­sur­ance fees to­talling £580,000,” said Jones. “In 2015 we gave a per­cent­age of the in­sur­ance fees back again to­talling £575,000. Over two years, that’s over a mil­lion pounds which the MSA has given back to clubs or­gan­is­ing events to help with the added ex­pec­ta­tions of the new reg­u­la­tions.”

The MSA also of­fers help through the Club De­vel­op­ment Fund, which can as­sist with costs. De­tails can be found on its web­site.

The gov­ern­ing body has made a huge com­mit­ment to stage ral­ly­ing. Now ev­ery­body in­volved in the sport needs to play their part. The crit­i­cism of the MSA for its strin­gent ap­proach is un­just, safety is a mov­ing goal­post and un­til ev­ery­one shares the at­ti­tude nec­es­sary to con­tinue stage ral­ly­ing, our sport will al­ways be at risk. ■ ● You can view the MESR rec­om­men­da­tions and the MSA’S new reg­u­la­tions on the MSA’S web­site;­ly­fu­ture.

Wyedean pic­ture alerted peo­ple to safety is­sues Mar­shals are vi­tal to ral­ly­ing in the United King­dom

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