Organisers’ decisions undermined great rally
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.