Or­gan­is­ers’ de­ci­sions un­der­mined great rally

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

Clearly, there’s some­thing en­tirely com­bustible about Por­tu­gal’s Ponte de Lima stage. Re­mem­ber last year? The zero car caught fire. Fol­lowed by the for­est.

This time around, Hay­den Pad­don’s Hyundai caught fire. Fol­lowed by the for­est. What was the com­mon thread in both these car-re­lated in­fer­nos?

The or­gan­is­ers chose not to stop the stage. The driv­ers were left to rip past a burn­ing Subaru 12 months ago and it was the same story last week­end.

Per­son­ally speak­ing, I find it al­most in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that the stage wasn’t stopped im­me­di­ately when the fire started. There was prob­a­bly half a tank of fuel in Pad­don’s car, the flames were feed­ing off dry wood and veg­e­ta­tion and the or­gan­is­ers mon­i­tored it from a he­li­copter. And kept send­ing cars in. In­cred­i­ble. I’m ab­so­lutely in agree­ment that we can’t stop the stage ev­ery time a car goes off just in case an­other car goes off in the same place.

But when that place is on fire, I think an ex­cep­tion can be made.

And then the worse thing hap­pened: Ott Tanak did go off. Can you imag­ine what was go­ing through the Es­to­nian’s mind as he flew into the flames.

Like I said, that this sce­nario played out – and ap­par­ently with the con­sent of the gov­ern­ing body of world motorsport, so says clerk of the course Pe­dro Almeida else­where on this page – I find dis­turb­ing.

As one se­nior team mem­ber said: “Can you imag­ine if Tanak had rolled and been trapped in the car? It would have been in­ter­est­ing to hear the case for keep­ing the stage run­ning then…”

Like last sea­son, there ap­peared to be an ab­so­lute fear of stop­ping a stage. Not con­vinced?

Ask Lorenzo Bertelli. He crashed heav­ily, took a knock on the head, felt a bit wob­bly, asked for the stage to be stopped for the medics to at­tend and he was told this wouldn’t be hap­pen­ing.

Au­to­mo­bile Club of Por­tu­gal and WRC Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Car­los Bar­bosa’s take?

“Lorenzo Bertelli was very anx­ious to go to the arms of his mother, that’s all it was,” said Bar­bosa last year. “He wanted us to stop the stage so his mother could fly in in the he­li­copter and pick him up so he didn’t have to wait. That might be how it works in Italy, but that’s not how we do things here in Por­tu­gal.”

When this event moved north from the Al­garve last year, spec­ta­tor con­trol was widely ex­pected to bring it to its knees. The or­gan­is­ers met that head-on and with heavy hands last year and have con­tin­ued that un­pop­u­lar but en­tirely nec­es­sary pol­icy this year.

But surely, ques­tions have to be asked over what hap­pened in stage five? At the very least, we need an an­swer to the ques­tion of why no­body slowed – or was al­lowed to slow – cars down fol­low­ing Pad­don’s crash.

The move to Matosin­hos and Porto has breathed new life into what was a tired rally in Faro. The Porto street stage was ex­cep­tional, bril­liant, but it and the rest of this great rally was un­der­mined by what went on in stage five.

David Evans

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