ALL EYES ON RALLY POLAND SAFETY
Event could be booted off the world calendar with another FIA yellow card
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 issuesPhotos: mcklein-imagedatebase.com
Our man got a taste of i20 R5