Event could be booted off the world cal­en­dar with another FIA yel­low card

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans

This week’s Rally Poland will come un­der the mi­cro­scope as it looks to safe­guard its place in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship with an im­proved safety record.

The Miko­la­jki-based event was given a for­mal warn­ing by the FIA last sea­son, fol­low­ing what were re­ported as sev­eral breaches of safety pro­to­col on the roads through the Ma­surian lake dis­trict.

WRC man­ager Jarmo Ma­ho­nen has made the gov­ern­ing body’s po­si­tion clear on the sub­ject of safety, stat­ing that any event which doesn’t com­ply with the im­prove­ments re­quested will be ejected from the cham­pi­onship.

April’s Rally Ar­gentina ran un­der the so-called FIA yel­low card and the South Amer­i­cans de­liv­ered an ex­cep­tional event fol­low­ing ma­jor in­vest­ment in time and re­source from the or­gan­is­ers, lo­cal po­lice and the FIA.

Rally Por­tu­gal went through a sim­i­lar change last sea­son, when the event re­turned to the north of the coun­try. The Porto event is, how­ever, now un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion to con­tinue to run a stage passed a burn­ing rally car.

But it’s all eyes on Poland this week. Last year’s event, ac­cord­ing to many driv­ers was among the most fright­en­ing in re­cent years. One driver told MN: “The places where the peo­ple were stand­ing was crazy, just crazy. We were flat out over some jumps and they were stand­ing in the ditches where we were land­ing. Or they were be­hind these re­ally small trees which would have bro­ken if we hit them at 20mph!

“When we were in some of the stages, you could hear this noise – this ping, ping, ping noise in some of the cor­ners. I didn’t know what it was, but then I un­der­stood: it was these cam­era sticks the spec­ta­tors were hold­ing, we were knock­ing them out of their hands! Crazy.”

WRC safety del­e­gate Michele Mou­ton has been through all of the stages and is happy with the plan in place from the or­gan­is­ers. That safety plan has been drawn up by Jacek Bar­tos – the Pole who worked in Mou­ton’s po­si­tion prior to her ar­rival this sea­son.

Mou­ton told MN: “It was fine for me. The in­spec­tion went very well. I drove the stages with Jacek [Bar­tos] and with the deputy clerk of the course. They have been work­ing well and dif­fer­ently from last year. I think it will be OK.”

Bar­tos has been work­ing with clerk of the course Jaroslaw Noworol to make the changes nec­es­sary to keep Poland in the world cham­pi­onship.

Noworol is con­fi­dent they have done enough. He said: “Just af­ter last year’s edi­tion of our event we talked a lot about what we should do to im­prove safety mat­ters. We changed the phi­los­o­phy of safety ac­tiv­i­ties con­cern­ing the stages. We will use a lot of fences in­stead of tapes. We are build­ing 41 spec­ta­tor ar­eas – al­most twice more than in 2015. We have about 1000 safety mar­shals work­ing dur­ing PZM Rally Poland 2016, which again is more than at [the] pre­vi­ous edi­tion.

“We pre­pare these places with park­ing places and fa­cil­i­ties like toi­lets, food and drinks. It can hap­pen that some rally fans will choose to ap­pear in no-go ar­eas; we will be mov­ing them to the safe places. I am de­ter­mined to do it and not to can­cel spe­cial stages ex­cept in ex­cep­tional sit­u­a­tions.”

Noworol said he was con­fi­dent the mea­sures taken would be enough to keep Poland on the cal­en­dar: “I am sure we will be in [the] WRC fam­ily next year. We have spec­tac­u­lar, fast and flow­ing gravel stages loved by driv­ers. We have a lot of fans on stages and TV, ra­dio and in­ter­net sta­tis­tics are great which is very im­por­tant for the FIA and WRC Pro­moter. There is no other choice: Rally Poland has to be in WRC cal­en­dar next year.”

It’s another toughie this week. I’ve seen David Llewellin driv­ing an Audi quat­tro S1, Jari-matti Lat­vala mak­ing his de­but at Good­wood and I’ve raced a ra­dio-con­trolled car around a track to win a pair of blue sun­glasses. But they’re not the fo­cus of this week’s words.

No, this time I’m talk­ing about a trip across the wa­ter just south of West Sus­sex. In these dark times, I guess we have to get used to the con­cept of trav­el­ling to Europe, now we’re no longer part of it. Another col­umn for another week. Pol­i­tics was very much for­got­ten when I rocked up just out­side Ypres for a ride with Kevin Ab­bring in Hyundai’s all-new i20 R5 car.

Hyundai is fast taking over as the World Rally Cham­pi­onship’s pre-emi­nent power in mak­ing new rally cars quickly; this is the Frank­furt-based Korean man­u­fac­turer’s third in two years, with a fourth – the 2017 World Rally Car – just around the cor­ner.

Com­mer­cially speak­ing, the R5 is the big one for Hyundai Mo­tor­sport. And that’s why sign off is taking just that lit­tle bit longer. The car’s been test­ing for a few months now, with Kevin and Se­bas­tian Mar­shall clock­ing up plenty of miles on all sorts of roads in Europe’s four cor­ners. But it’s get­ting close now. Very close.

It’s been too long since I’ve been to Ypres and I’d for­got­ten just how chal­leng­ing the stages can be. Granted, there’s not much in the way of el­e­va­tion, but the ever-chang­ing grip lev­els al­lied to junc­tion af­ter cor­ner af­ter junc­tion make this a tricky place.

Ab­bring and the i20 were more than a match for our test stage. The road fea­tured a bit of ev­ery­thing that makes up Bel­gian ral­ly­ing, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of on-the-lim­iter-in-top stretches and brak­ing into some hor­ri­bly slip­pery square cor­ners.

The thing that strikes you im­me­di­ately with the world’s lat­est R5 car is the bal­ance and the ef­fi­ciency in the suspension. As is the way in this part of the world, Ab­bring was slic­ing the car through cut af­ter cut and even with al­most all the i20 off the road and up at some fairly stran­gle an­gles in as­phalt trim, she hit the black top and set­tled im­me­di­ately, squat and ready for he next in­struc­tion.

There’s no doubt­ing, Hyundai’s built it­self another win­ner with the R5 – but what I also took away from the day was just how un­der­rated revin’ Kevin is. There’s all this talk of Pon­tus this, Lappi that, but let’s not for­get the fly­ing Dutch­man. He’s a match for them all and there’s not a 27-year-old around with more ex­pe­ri­ence of test­ing fac­tory rally cars of this gen­er­a­tion and the next.

Pol­ish event is un­der the spot­light Nar­row roads and ditches af­ter jumps have caused safety is­sues

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­date­

Our man got a taste of i20 R5

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