Or­gan­is­ers de­fend de­ci­sion to let stage run de­spite ac­ci­dent and fire

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans Photos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

Rally of Por­tu­gal of­fi­cials have de­fended their de­ci­sion to send com­peti­tors into a stage while Hay­den Pad­don’s Hyundai burned – a de­ci­sion that was only re­versed when Ott Tanak’s Ford crashed and landed in the fire.

Pad­don’s Hyundai i20 WRC was lost in a fifth-stage in­ferno and only quick think­ing from Tanak saved his Ford Fi­esta RS WRC from be­ing taken by the fire as well ( see story, right).

Pad­don, whose car caught fire when the hot ex­haust ig­nited the dry grass on which it came to rest, said: “It was a flat, fourth-gear cor­ner. I was flat through there in the morn­ing, but a big hole had de­vel­oped on the en­try to the cor­ner. The hole was hid­den be­hind veg­e­ta­tion and I couldn’t see it un­til I was com­mit­ted. When I hit it, it kicked the car off into the bank on the right. We hit a big rock in the bank, that took the front wheel off and spun us around, then we went down the bank back­wards.

“For me it’s frus­trat­ing be­cause it doesn’t feel like a driv­ing mis­take. I was caught out by an ob­sta­cle on the road, one I wasn’t ex­pect­ing and the con­se­quences are much too harsh.”

Asked if he was aware of the anger at the de­ci­sion to con­tinue send­ing cars into a stage which ran passed a burn­ing car and for­est, Rally of Por­tu­gal clerk of the course Pe­dro Almeida told MN: “I don’t think that way. We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing now the causes for this ac­ci­dent and, from my knowl­edge I would say, well I can­not prove it and I don’t want to, but it looks like a driver’s mis­take.

“My po­si­tion is this: you stop the stage un­der one of two con­di­tions, the road is blocked or you need to send ur­gent med­i­cal as­sis­tance to any­body. If the road is clear and no as­sis­tance is nec­es­sary, from my point of view there is no rea­son to stop the stage.

“What I’m go­ing to say is not po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, but this is rally. This is not a cir­cuit. You must be pre­pared, as a driver – and I’ve been a co-driver for 10 years – for un­ex­pected things. If you know ev­ery­thing, like on a Plays­ta­tion… rally is not like this. Ac­ci­dents may hap­pen. I don’t see any rea­son to stop the stage.

“Ev­ery time you stop the stage, you have to al­lo­cate times and then they ar­gue about that.”

Asked why he didn’t warn Tanak and the fol­low­ing cars, Pad­don said: “The mar­shals and po­lice were be­ing very re­stric­tive of where we could go. We were told it was a ra­dio point and that the stage had been stopped. When you’re 13km [eight miles] into the stage, ob­vi­ously there are ac­tive cars in the stage. We weren’t al­lowed to go and put the [warn­ing] tri­an­gle out.

“We had pushed the ‘OK’ but­ton be­cause, when I stopped, I didn’t know any­thing about the fire. When I got out of the car it was on fire; the fire was be­yond con­trol af­ter 10 sec­onds. I couldn’t go back and change [the but­ton to SOS] when it was on fire.”

Ap­prox­i­mately 10 min­utes af­ter Pad­don’s crash, Tanak went off the road at the same point.

“There was no in­for­ma­tion, no mar­shals, no flags noth­ing,” said the Es­to­nian. “We went off the road and landed straight into the mid­dle of the fire. It wasn’t just Pad­don’s car that was on fire – it was the whole for­est.”

Hav­ing rolled into a lake in Mex­ico last sea­son, Tanak is ac­cus­tomed to deal­ing with ex­treme sit­u­a­tions. He told MN: “I can tell you, fire is def­i­nitely worse than wa­ter! This was not well or­gan­ised. There were heli­copters around – how were the rally or­gan­is­ers not told?”

Both driv­ers were frus­trated at an ac­ci­dent they felt could have been avoided if FIA safety del­e­gate Michele Mou­ton had driven the stage be­tween the first and sec­ond pass. All driv­ers re­ported a mo­ment in the cor­ner and Jari-matti Lat­vala dam­aged his car at that point.

Tanak said: “In Swe­den we had Mou­ton driv­ing in front of the zero cars be­cause the con­di­tions were chang­ing, but they are chang­ing here also. Mou­ton is the FIA se­cu­rity per­son and there is no point in hav­ing her in the ser­vice park – her work is def­i­nitely out on the stages to do some­thing for safety, check the stages for our safety. Def­i­nitely, she would have seen this prob­lem on the stage, that is sure. She could not drive past here with­out a mas­sive hit.”

Mou­ton said: “Swe­den was an­other story, we were look­ing for snow – this is ab­so­lutely not the same. Can you be­lieve if I have to go be­fore them and then in be­tween the stage? I am not in the rally car, it’s im­pos­si­ble to do this job I am not the gravel crew – ba­si­cally that’s what they are ask­ing.”

The stage was stopped fol­low­ing Tanak’s ac­ci­dent, mean­ing Martin Prokop was the 11th and fi­nal car into the stage. Kris Meeke drove the stage at road speed and dis­agreed with Tanak, say­ing: “It would have been dif­fi­cult for Michele to pick that point up, there’s so much bedrock in that stage – you’d need to be quite com­mit­ted in driv­ing the line to find that [hole]. The ques­tion I would like an­swer­ing is, how Tanak was al­lowed to crash there? Why was no­body slow­ing him down? Why was the stage run­ning?”

Rally of Por­tu­gal clerk of the course Pe­dro Almeida talks MN through the SS5 in­ci­dent in his own words.

“The crash was less than 100 me­tres be­fore a ra­dio point. Im­me­di­ately we knew about the ac­ci­dent and we knew the driv­ers were safe, the car was in flames and around there was a lot of fire. The sit­u­a­tion for the car was crit­i­cal and there was noth­ing we could do about it.

“From the FIA, the re­quire­ment is for one big fire-fight­ing truck at the be­gin­ning of the stage and a light ve­hi­cle at the stop [line], one ve­hi­cle with the fire ex­tin­guish­ers.

“We have two eye-in-the-sky heli­copters. One was fol­low­ing the first cars – we send our he­li­copter to the place of the ac­ci­dent. The cam­era showed im­me­di­ately, less than one minute af­ter the ac­ci­dent we had the footage. It was clear we could do noth­ing about the car, be­cause of the lo­ca­tion, hu­mid­ity and the tracks and the fire was re­stricted to a cer­tain area: the rally track was al­ways clear.

“So, I de­cided, be­cause my last in­ten­tion was to in­ter­fere with the clas­si­fi­ca­tion, I will not leave [al­low to start] any WRC2 car, but I will leave the P1s [World Rally Cars] to all run through the stage. That de­ci­sion was taken here [in rally con­trol]. All the peo­ple from the FIA came, I ex­plained them what was hap­pened – they could see the track was to­tally clear, no spec­ta­tors, noth­ing, so I con­tinue start­ing the cars un­til car 12 has a sim­i­lar ac­ci­dent and then I said: ‘OK it’s too much’. I stopped the stage im­me­di­ately af­ter car 21 [Prokop].

“We had two cars in that sit­u­a­tion and the spec­ta­tors were help­ing car 12 [Tanak], tow­ing the car. The first thing I did af­ter car 21 was to send the big fire en­gine into the stage. Im­me­di­ately af­ter this, I restarted the cars, but not un­der rally con­di­tions to re­spect the sched­ule of the rally.

“We co-or­di­nate with civil de­fence, they send some ve­hi­cles us­ing the ac­cess road and they ex­tin­guish the fire be­fore our big truck ar­rives.

“My in­ten­tion was to send all of the [World Rally] cars through the stage.”

Pad­don: crash not a mis­take Tanak: drama was avoid­able Tanak went off into the Hyundai’s fire

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