MATTERS OF MOMENT., January 1982

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MOTOR SPORT IS DANGEROUS

Surely not, we thought! Unless it refers to the breaking of commandments over the delectable cars we describe and discuss in our pages. Then we remembered that we had seen this wording on Press passes issued by the RAC to those covering the recent RAC Rally, which was such a convincing victory for Hannu Mikkola and the 4WD Audi Quattro Turbo. Any car being driven fast in a competition can be dangerous to onlookers, and it is natural for warnings to be given to those who attend such happenings. The problem with forest-stage rallies is how to protect spectators.

Without the keen support of such important competitions as the RAC Rally by very large numbers of enthusiasts, sponsorship, by Lombard, Rothmans and other financial sources. might well be cut-back or dry up altogether, which could result in the end of big-time rallying. as we now have it. Yet this could also happen if fatal accidents were to occur, involving spectators. The solution seems insuperable; but if anyone has any intelligent points to make, we are sure the RAC and the Forestry Commission would listen. Recent experience of marshalling on a non-spectator Welsh forest-stage during the 1981 RAC Rally brought home the depth of the problem. Spectators arrived in large numbers, quite impossible for the marshalling-strength to control, even assuming that civilians can cope with what might be described as football-type determination to see the show. It is useless to tell the watchers-of-the-night that they are on private property and not supposed to be there. Nor would one with to do so, providing that the actual driving-stage is kept well clear. Some, but by no means all, rally spectators appreciate this. What they want to do is watch the drivers they support display their considerable skills at a fast bend or tight corner. The difficulty arises in finding such places from which to spectate. This is aggravated because quite naturally the avid rally followers like to see their favourites through a stage and then leave, to go to the next spectator point. As the faster drivers, the top men, are seeded the early numbers, this involves movements of onlookers while the bulk of the competitors have still to come. Where experienced rally-types are concerned, they are usually well-fitted to keep the road clear. The alarming thing is that they are apt to be joined by those who have never before seen a raily-car driven at speed, have little idea how fast such cars go, or that their brakes may be grabbing at the end of a hard stage, and even well-meaning spectators seem to be less wary of their safety as the night wears on.

A charge varying from £1.00 to £2.50 for each adult was levied at many stages during last year’s RAC Rally. As it is well-nigh impossible to spectate at all the stages (correct us if we are wrong!), this might not seem a very big price to pay for the entertainment provided. But to it has to be added the cost of petrol and meals, and thus it is not perhaps surprising that great crowds of keen onlookers find the non-public stages, however careful the RAC, and conscientious the Press, are in not revealing their locations. What the legal position would be should a serious accident befall spectators on such a stage, where it is difficult to warn them of the dangers, is something one does not want to contemplate.

There are two items, not very helpful, which have to be raised. One is that even when they are charged money to watch, spectators are not always given anywhere to leave their cars, nor shown how best to find the interesting parts of a stage, where marshals will be present to control them, or try to. This can mean people emerging onto parts of a timed-section with little idea where they are, or that a car may be approaching at some 90 m.p.h. The other point is that even well-meaning rally visitors, trying to obey the pleas of marshals to walk anywhere but up and down the course, are demoralised by having no clear path to follow, and having to pick a nocturnal way through grass, brambles, and over fallen logs, to where they wish to spectate. If there were some way of clearing paths for onlookers before a rally started (the disliked Jobs’-Incentive Scheme for unemployed youngsters could possibly be utilised when some of them might derive a little satisfaction from working in the cause of motoring sport — we are optimists to a degree!) and, installing public-address systems, to instruct and inform spectators who are such an important and enthusiastic part of the whole rally scene, this might help rename situation of growing danger and concern. We know this is done at the more-publicised and daylight-stages. and we are aware that funds may not exist to implement such amenities at other stages.

But it seems ironical that while Grand Prix cars are now divided from the spectators by much elaborate Armco barriers and catch-fencing, those who give their support to rallies are protected by little more than a length of rope and marshals’ whistles, if that. Without wishing for over-elaboration or unwanted control, some thought must be given to a potentially very dangerous situation.

Continued overleaf
We wish our readers a Happy New Year

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