When co-driver to World Rally champions Juha Kankkunen and Colin McRae gives you a call, don’t miss it.
When that co-driver, Nicky Grist, is on the blower it usually means opportunities are about to start flowing. But for young British co-driver Jack Morton being invited by Grist on to the Motor Sports Association’s Co-Driver Academy was just one of a number highlights of a career showing all the signs of flourishing into something much more impressive.
Recent trips to Barbados, a season in Germany and rally wins in the UK mean Morton is targeting the next step in his path towards the World Rally Championship.
“The goal is to try and do more European rallies, and use the European Championship as a stepping stone for the WRC,” says 23-year-old Morton.
“I’d like to try and get a seat in the ERC, and it’s just about trying to pair with the right driver.
“There’s people like Seb Marshall who was in the ERC with Kevin Abbring for a few years and is now in the WRC [with Hayden Paddon], and then Scott Martin and Dan Barritt have done bits out there as well. That’s the goal for the next season or two, to establish a reputation out there.”
Morton has had success so far in the UK and Germany. Pic by SMJ Photography.
Recent years have been kind to Morton. After working hard on his own personal organisation and on the delivery of his pacenotes, he’s been laden with titles. In 2015 (with Damian Cole) and 2016 (with Tom Preston) the inaugural and second BTRDA Mixed Surface Championships went Morton’s way. Also in 2015, he won the MSA Asphalt Championship with Cole in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Morton believes he’s ready for that next step now. He’s already spent last year getting acquainted with events in Europe, and it’s made him a better co-driver.
“The German ADAC Rallye Cup was a big help with all of that last year,” he adds, of a championship he finished third in at the first time of asking.
“Obviously when you’re going to a different country and it’s a different language, it’s a bit of a wake-up call.
“But it’s all about stepping the game up and proving I have what it takes to take these big steps.”
Morton competed in the ADAC Cup. Pic ADAC Motorsport.
The thirst for rallying success comes from a life of involvement in rallying. His father, Phil, competed in the north east and in the British Rally Championship and BTRDA. It gave him a unique insight into how he wanted to get involved in rallying.
“As long as I can remember I’ve been going to watch him [Phil] and as soon as I was old enough to help I was doing that as well,” says Morton.
“I’ve been rally mad as long as I can remember.
“With dad being a driver I obviously saw how much you have to put in financially, I could never afford to do that when I was starting.
“You can start co-driving at an early age and as soon as I was 14 I jumped at the chance of getting out there.”
After being invited into a co-driving academy by Grist, Morton has jumped at the opportunity and used the last couple of years to add successes to his CV, most recently winning events with Paul Bird in his Ford Focus WRC07. Now he’s ready to step up and take on Europe as well as continuing to target rally wins in the UK. Could you be the driver in need of assistance?
A race weekend in the life of a karting team begins weeks beforehand. We drop in on the squad of Mick Barrett Racing at Whilton Mill…
It’s a brisk late-November morning, the temperature gauge reads three degrees above freezing, while the sun shines brightly over the picturesque Northamptonshire countryside following a night of intermittent rainfall.
These are some way off the optimum conditions for any type of on-track racing, yet they are perfect as a learning tool for the youngsters competing in the final round of the 2017 Whilton Mill Kart Club Championship. The Daventry track glistens as it is prepared to host its season finale, with 172 drivers registered to take part in six separate classes from Honda Cadet to Senior Max.
From a small dad-and-lad outfit with their van in tow, to large, professional teams housed in areas big enough to host a multitude of karts, all are hoping to end the year on a high and learn more about what it takes to race in such tricky conditions.
The Mick Barrett Racing team is an averagely sized squad, with its two-kart awning by no means taking up the most square feet in the paddock. Yet the team, now run by Barrett’s son Dan, has been established for over 20 years and has contributed to the early careers of recent stars Lando Norris, Charlie Robertson and Alexander Albon under the MBR banner.
Two new hopefuls are competing over the course of this weekend, both racing in the X30 Junior class: London-based Sean Butcher and Singapore racer Alexander Huang, coached by former MBR driver and now McLaren GT factory racer Ben Barnicoat. While the drivers turn their morning focus to the weekend’s opening practice session, the team’s work already began 24 hours earlier, when it arrived at the track and started preparation.
Barrett Jr explains that a team’s race weekend begins days or even weeks beforehand. “After the last meeting, the karts will be totally stripped down and chassis checked for any bends or cracking that could have occurred,” he says. “We have a flatbed jig to ensure the karts are straight, and caster angles are correct. Engines will be cleaned and carburettors checked to ensure they’re holding the correct pressure. Tyres and rims are also checked for wear and any potential cracks that could lead to punctures. Each driver owns a single kart and we carry a second for emergency. Each driver also has two scrutineered engines.
Mick (left) and Dan Barrett look after MBR team. Pic: Kartpix.net
“We arrive at the track generally 24 hours before the track action begins, or even the night before that, and begin to set up the awning and equipment and finally the bare chassis before attaching all the bodywork, engines and fluids required. When the drivers arrive, I will then go out on a track walk with them to get them adjusted to their surroundings.”
Barrett explains that the first practice session of the weekend is all about shaking down both the kart and the driver as they begin to focus on their racing and not their schoolwork. “It’s about getting them back into the swing of things,” he says. “On their return I always then ask for their feedback before delivering my own to see how they can improve. We’ll then go through their data; if we have more than one driver per class, we’ll overlay the data to see who can improve compared to their team-mate and also compare it to previous weekends at the same track. We can team this with the on-board camera footage to check their lines and approaches.
“During testing, we’re also allowed to run exhaust-temperature sensors so we can see where and how much the driver is applying the throttle, and look to adjust this if necessary before the racing begins.”
After Saturday’s full day of testing, the team strips down each kart once again, giving it a thorough service before the serious business takes place on Sunday. Following each of the day’s three Junior X30 heats, each driver sits with Barrett to debrief, with Barnicoat providing further advice as they run over the data and camera footage.
Butcher explains that feedback at this point of the weekend is not just about improving his own results, but also learning that this is a crucial part of his racing journey. “Data analysis is so important in modern car racing,” he says, “so we need to have a thorough understanding and be able to provide good feedback now before we reach that stage. It’s reassuring to know that modern technology provides you with all the tools to help you improve, there’s no guesswork, and having people within the team who have been at your level and experienced it adds to that.”
Between the heats, the kart’s set-up will be tweaked according to how the driver feels and what the data shows. But after a full day’s testing and honing the set-up, only minor changes are required on Sunday.
Sean Butcher enjoys the data debriefs. Pic: Kartpix.net
“Tyre pressures are the biggest thing on race day, setting them so that the driver is able to push early or later in the race,” says Barrett. “As is ensuring the drivers look after the condition of the tyres. Some, such as Alex [Huang], have a harsher driving style and so tyre wear is more of a concern. Alex hasn’t raced in the UK much so pushes that much harder because he wants to do well, overheats the tyres, and they wear quicker.”
Butcher begins the weekend well, finishing second in his opening heat, while Huang is 11th after a 10-second post-race penalty for an incorrectly positioned front fairing. This occurs if the kart’s front bumper makes sufficient impact with another kart. The same penalty is handed to Butcher and others in heat two, before the duo’s opening-heat positions are repeated in the day’s third and final heat.
“The front fairing has stopped lots of scary first-lap accidents where drivers bunch up too much,” says Butcher, “but if you’re in the middle of a train of karts and get hit from behind, you’re bound to hit the kart in front and be penalised for it. But it teaches you to drive fairly.”
Huang suffers another fairing penalty in the final, dropping him out of contention for the top 10. Butcher remains just clear of a tight skirmish behind to narrowly miss out on second place, so settles for the final spot on the podium.
The team’s job is only partly done, however. As the drivers and families depart the circuit, they leave the team in the middle of stripping the kart to its chassis once again, before equipment and awning are deconstructed and, under chilly moonlight, loaded into the truck to be rechecked at base.
When praising the efforts of those teams at the pinnacle of the sport, spare a thought for the passionate individuals at its purest form, without whom our next superstars could not emerge, develop, and demonstrate their finest abilities.
MBR uses technology to teach drivers. Pic: Kartpix.net
The likes of the Jim Clark and Mull rallies could return in 2019, as the Scottish government has committed to a public discussion about a new law that would permit closed-road motorsport in Scotland.
After consulting with the Motor Sports Association, which has successfully campaigned for similar legislation in England and Wales, a working group will be initiated “this summer” – followed then by a consultation – in a bid to influence legislation that could be put to parliament.
A meeting last week between the MSA, Scottish Motor Sports and the minister for Transport, Humza Yousaf, was believed to be successful.
“We remain absolutely committed to our long-standing goal of achieving closed-road motorsport across mainland Britain and we’re pleased that Transport Scotland has started the journey towards new legislation,” said MSA chairman David Richards.
“This would be a wonderful opportunity not only to revive famous events such as the Jim Clark and Mull Rallies but also to welcome new closed-road fixtures onto the Scottish motorsport calendar in years to come.”
Citroen World Rally team principal Pierre Budar felt Kris Meeke was out of control and left him with no option but to dismiss the Northern Irishman.
Explaining his decision to terminate Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle’s contracts with immediate effect, Budar told Autosport his priority had to be turning Citroen’s troubled season around and to look after the welfare of his crews.
Meeke, who sits eighth in the championship, crashed heavily on last week’s Rally Portugal. The violent nature of that crash was the final straw for Budar.
“Because this is a dangerous sport, you have to be able to deal with this danger,” Budar said.
“When you think about Portugal, you are in a situation when the car is perfect for the driver – you can refer to what Kris has said during the rally.
“The pacenotes were supposed to be perfect, it’s the same pacenote that has been used in the same stage in previous years.
“I think this was at least the third time they went through this stage with the same note with no modification of that.
“And you have no pressure because the opposition open the road and your position in the ranking doesn’t allow you to reach anything. Regarding all of this, you are supposed to be in a position when you are safe on the road.
“You know the result – meaning, it’s not under control. We don’t have control on the situation anymore. If we lose control then we can wonder what will be next.”
Asked which other crashes Budar felt had compromised Meeke’s safety, he replied: “I suppose you know better than I all the results of the rallies since 2014 when Kris started to drive for Citroen.
“If we only look at last year and this year, we have several examples of huge crashes for Kris when there was no pressure, when there is no reason to take so many risks that he would go out of the road.”
Budar deflected criticism that the unpredictability of Citroen’s C3 was to blame for some of the Meeke’s crashes.
“OK, you can also consider the car’s not so bad when he is able to win with it,” he said.
“He won in Spain on a mix of Tarmac and gravel and he was able to win in Mexico, where he had a lot of luck.
“This year in Mexico, he was in second place without any pressure – he had a lot of time and [there] was just no reason why he made this mistake [tipping the car onto its side on Sunday morning] this year.
“You cannot only talk of the car being to blame – we can find a few example where he had the opportunity to deal with the car when there was no pressure.
“In that case you have to be able to deal with the car even when it is not perfect. As a driver, you have to consider how to get the car back safely when there is no reason to take all the risks.”
Budar said the decision was taken following internal discussions from Monday until Thursday.
PSA chief Carlos Tavares and Citroen CEO Linda Jackson had input in the decision, and Meeke was told by telephone by Budar on Thursday afternoon, shortly before the announcement.
“You can expect we did this properly,” said Budar, when asked about criticism of the style of the communication.
“I had Kris on the phone before the press release was sent. I can understand it’s difficult for him to accept this decision and I can understand he is angry.
“I must say, in terms of people, I really appreciate Kris and Paul. They are really nice guys.
“I know we can see some quite difficult things in the press right now, but I want to say this is sad for me to deal with this – in terms of people, I really appreciate these guys.”
David Evans, Rallies Editor
The number of texts I got from other drivers and co-drivers asking if I thought Citroen’s communication system had been hacked is a fair hint to the surprise with which this news was greeted.
I was as stunned as anybody else.
I’m a big fan of the big-hearted Meeke approach. Always have been and always will be. He’s a fighter and – five times for Citroen – he’s beaten the world and been a winner.
But, countering the anger and emotion coming from Meeke fans, there’s the balance that Citroen has squared the circle that is its current World Rally Championship campaign. For whatever reason, the Parisian team finished fourth from four last year and it sits in the same position today. And Meeke’s eighth in the drivers’ table, 76 points behind leader Thierry Neuville.
The numbers are stark and can’t be ignored. Something had to change for Citroen and that something is Meeke.
There’s a whole backstory to Meeke’s time with Citroen. This isn’t the time or the place to go into such detail, but suffice to say his efforts to develop the C3 WRC through 2016 were both financially and politically hamstrung.
Equally, Meeke made too many mistakes last season. He tried too hard to drive an inconsistent car quickly. Too many hearts were in too many mouths while Meeke was on stage in the C3.
The massive frustration for me is that things were changing, Pierre Budar has turned things around – no longer are mechanics jumping ship from Citroen – and Meeke had found more consistency this season. Then Portugal happened.
He remains one of the top three fastest rally drivers in the world right now; few can deliver the blinding speed and spellbinding bravery the Dungannon driver can call on. Clearly, that’s not enough for Citroen.
As part of our special investigation into the world of karting, we got former karting star and now McLaren GT factory star Ben Barnicoat to walk us round a lap of one of Britain’s top tracks, PF International.
Circuit Focus: PF International Length: 1.382 kilometres / 0.859 miles Number of turns: 10 With Ben Barnicoat
Barnicoat has much experience of racing at PFi. Pic: Jakob Ebrey
This begins the lap with a right-to-left corner that’s fairly easy and flat-out in all classes in which I’ve raced. The key is for your hand movements to be nice and smooth, and to keep off the kerbs so that you don’t upset the kart and scrub speed off as you go underneath the bridge.
There’s a slight right kink here after the bridge before a long left-hander. It requires only a small dab of brake as the gradient of the banking is quite high. You can smoothly throw the kart in and let the banking catch you at the apex. Again, you want to be as close to the inside kerb as you can without running over it. As you hit the apex, you’re then back hard on the power. You don’t want to run too wide on the exit. The trick is to actually stick more to the inside kerb to keep the distance as short as possible as Turn 3 approaches quickly.
This corner is all about setting up for Turn 4 to get a good run down the back straight. There’s a small brake on entry and a fairly late apex. You need to get as close as you can to the kerb, which allows you to stay to the left side of the track over the bridge and in prime position for the entry to Turn 4.
Once again you only need a very light bit of braking for this corner. Some drivers don’t brake at all, but I prefer to as you can get the kart turned quicker and be back on to full throttle just before you hit the apex to maximise your speed down the back straight. This also helps you to overtake into the track’s first hairpin, which is the best opportunity to do so on the whole lap.
The braking is the hardest and most crucial element to this corner. You brake for a long time, making sure that you get the kart stable before turning into the hairpin as it’s a fairly slow corner. You hold the brake until the apex as you start to turn in. You’ve also got to use your body a lot here. It’s hard to get the kart down to the optimum speed before you turn in. So as you press hard on the brake and begin to turn, you have to put a lot of pressure on your outside arm to make the outside front wheel dig in and produce more grip and better speed through the corner. This technique makes the inside rear wheel lift off the ground and makes the kart rotate faster, working as a differential would in a racing car.
This is one of the easier corners on the track. Similar to the previous hairpin, except you’re not approaching this at the same high speed. This allows you to brake that little bit later and you’re not relying on your body as much to help turn the kart inwards. You also get a slightly later apex here than in Turn 5, which allows you a better exit and a run down to the Turn 7 chicane.
Bruno Ferrari Esses
This is one of the toughest corners at PF International; you can gain or lose a lot of time here. Having exited Turn 6 with a lot of speed, it’s a quick corner which requires quite hard, but short, braking before turning left for the first part. As in Turn 5, you use your outside arm to push on the kart and make it get up and over the apex kerb. This allows you to stay over to the left side of the track and opens up the second part of the chicane, the right hander which you can take flat-out. This gives you a better run towards the 90-degree Turn 8.
Bobby Game Corner
This is a very tricky corner as it leads directly into Fletcher’s Loop and the final section of the track. If you make a mistake here, it really does ruin your lap. You brake and turn in slightly earlier than you would expect. It’s very important that you get to the apex kerb so that you don’t run too wide on your exit. Once you’re at the apex, it’s hard on the throttle. You want to use as much of the track as possible, but you really don’t want to run onto the exit kerb otherwise it compromises your entry into Fletcher’s Loop.
The hardest corner on the track. You have to enter smoothly with a lot of speed, and rely on the front of the kart to slow you down. With the corner being so long, you don’t want to brake too much and kill the speed immediately; you can let the kart slow itself down. After a dab of braking, you clip the apex kerb at the start of the corner and then let the kart drift out slightly so you have room to rotate it as the corner tightens up. It’s very important that you again force your outside arm onto the steering wheel to turn smoothly inwards as the kart will want to straighten up here. Make the kart do what you want it to do, rather than be lazy. You then exit the Loop with a smooth, flat-out flick left-hander where you keep as close as possible to the apex and let the kart flow out onto the exit kerb.
As you enter the final corner, it’s all about preparation. You have to again ensure that your steering action is smooth as you take the penultimate left-hander. You guide the kart up the inside kerb to give yourself an extra foot of track before coming off the kerb, lifting aggressively and using your body to turn the kart to the right for the final corner and have it pointed towards the final straight. This opens up your exit and allows you to carry more speed at full throttle onto the straight to complete the lap.
What about in the wet?
Like all tracks, once rain hits, grip levels severely reduce. With only four small tyres and no suspension, the grip level that a kart provides is incredible. The biggest challenge for many drivers is to have the confidence to allow the kart to be out of control. This is the key to unlocking a quick wet lap. You don’t have to mind the machine moving underneath you.
That’s where you rely on the feeling that comes from your backside and lower back to know when the kart has the grip and when it doesn’t.
Braking is generally done earlier and you can never get the kart slowed down enough, meaning you intentionally run wide. The racing lines at every corner are different than in the dry. You have to keep off the traditional racing line, which is full of wet, slippery, ingrained rubber and more polished. Braking is done in the middle of the track rather than on the outside. Once you’ve exited the corner, you’ll then come back across the dry racing line and turn in later from the outside of the track, missing the slippery inside kerbs.
Wet-weather racing, and being able to master the conditions, is what separates a good karting driver from an excellent one.
British Touring Car Championship driver Aiden Moffat has exited the TCR UK championship, with the Laser Tools Racing team ‘losing confidence’ in the organisation of the series.
For qualifying at the British Sports & Saloon Car Club-organised Knockhill event last weekend, Moffat appeared to have pole position for the race after four cars were deemed to be underweight.
But after the WestCoast Racing team appealed, the cars were re-instated and Moffat dropped back behind Daniel Lloyd, who has won every race so far this year and took another pair of wins in Scotland, as Moffat didn’t finish the first race and then didn’t start the second.
“We have decided to leave TCR UK as incidents at both last weekend’s Knockhill races plus the previous meet at Silverstone have left us both frustrated and perplexed,” said team principal Bob Moffatt.
“Certain decisions and actions have made us completely lose confidence in the series, and after a lot of thought and discussion we have decided to call it a day.
“However we feel the format has a lot of potential, and we offer our best wishes to the series and its competitors.
“We would also like to thank Derek Palmer and Romeo Ferraris for giving us the opportunity.”
Moffat finished second in the first race of the opening weekend at Silverstone before running out of fuel in race two. After Knockhill, he lies 129 points behind Lloyd, who has scored perfectly at the first two meetings of the year.
TCR UK provided a short statement following the new of Moffatt and Laser Tool’s withdrawal.
“We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the decision by Laser Tools Racing to withdraw from the TCR UK championship, particularly since we read the announcement at the same time as the media,” it read.
“We would like to thank the team for its participation in the series and wish Aiden every success in the future.”
The championship appeared to be set for an entry of well over 20 cars when it was announced in 2017, even exploring the possibility of needing two races at some rounds.
But at the first round of the season the championship had 13 cars, and 11 at Knockhill.
The series has been credited with close racing in pockets through the field, and its live streaming service has also been well received by fans.
Historic Formula Ford driver Nelson Rowe credited two spectators and a competitor for saving his life after he was dragged from his car while engulfed in flames at Cadwell Park.
The double Historic Formula Ford champion won last Saturday’s race and was disputing the lead of race two when he collided with Cameron Jackson at Charlie’s corner – a long, uphill right-hander that tightens at the end – on lap three.
Jackson had missed a gear, catching out Rowe out. His Crossle was launched over Jackson’s Lola and landed inverted in the grass, with its engine bay bursting into flames.
Fellow competitor and champion Callum Grant, having seen the start of the incident, stopped his Merlyn near the scene and ran back to help.
“The first thing I did was look under the car to see whether the driver was still in it,” said Grant, who was assisted by two spectators.
“Nelson’s eyes were closed but he was shouting ‘get me out’.
“I wasn’t strong enough to lift it [a 400kg car] off him, but I have so much admiration for the spectators [who climbed over the fence].
“They were in T-shirts, but as we lifted the car up one of them undid Nelson’s belts and pulled him out.
“One also went back for a fire extinguisher.”
Rowe said: “I was awake for all of it.
“I couldn’t see the flames but could smell petrol and felt something wet on my leg.
“That was from the [in-car] extinguisher, [which was] triggered when the roll hoop moved.
“I could see Callum’s blue overalls alongside the car and was relieved to be out.
“My helmet was cracked and my overalls singed. I’m stiff but fine – a lot better than expected.”
Still in shock, Grant drove back to the grid where long-time racer Don Hardman sat him down under the trees and comforted him while competitors waited.
“I couldn’t believe that Nelson was sitting there calmly having tea with his wife and young daughter,” Grant added.
“That was brilliant, but I hope I never find myself in that situation again.”
Jackson went on to win the race, with Grant an emotional third. “I’m relieved that Nelson’s OK,” said Jackson afterwards.
Jonathan Palmer, whose MotorSport Vision concern operates the circuit, said the incident would be investigated but did condone the reaction of the spectators.
“The marshals were beaten to the scene by two spectators who jumped over the fence and helped put the car back on its wheels, after which the driver got out himself,” he said.
“It was an unusual situation and prompt action from those spectators but what I would say is for obvious reasons we can’t encourage other spectators to do this.
“It certainly could have helped and we’re grateful for their quick thinking.
“It would be wrong of us not to look into all incidents, and we are already studying this one to see if anything can be learnt.”
Citroen team principal Pierre Budar believes the design of the manufacturer’s C3 World Rally Car saved the lives of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle in their Rally Portugal crash.
Meeke went off the road after turning in to a fifth-gear left-hander on the second run of the Amarante stage on Saturday afternoon and slid into trees lining the outside of the bend, destroying the front end of the C3.
Co-driver Nagle was uninjured but, after stepping from the car, Meeke was airlifted to hospital after complaining of back pain. He was released on Saturday evening, and flew home a day later.
“We saw the car slid when it got on the loose and the back of the car broke away,” Budar told MN.
“There were a couple of smaller impacts and then this very big impact with the car’s a-pillar against the tree. This section of the car wrapped itself around the tree.
“This was the biggest crash I have ever seen and the guys who have been here with Citroen for a long time said it was a massive one.
“After the crash, we saw from the television Kris and Paul were out of the car and then we saw the car: wow, it’s really impressive.
“When you look at this car, you cannot think that the two guys inside are 100% safe – and they are. They have no injury, nothing broken.
“The design of the car? Thanks very much – it saved Kris and Paul.”
Budar explained the philosophy behind the build of the car – the roll cage of which was badly damaged after absorbing energy on impact.
“We could build a tank,” he said. “But it’s a balance between the G-force you get from making a tank and the absorption you can get from the roll cage.
“The cage has absorbed some of the energy in the accident to stop it going straight to the bodies of the crew.
“We could make the tank, but then any crash will be very aggressive on the bodies of the driver and co-driver.
“Our choice in terms of design are 100% more towards safety when we make the roll cage and all areas of the car – it’s in our culture.
“When we look at the regulations from the FIA, we always look to go even further.”
Meeke felt the price of the accident was high for what was a minor mistake of turning in late.
“The consequences were pretty severe, because we ended up in some big trees,” he said. “The car certainly doesn’t look so pretty.
“I have to say thanks to Citroen for building such a strong car, and to the medical staff who looked after me so well.”
Meeke led the rally twice on Friday but dropped down the order that afternoon when he suffered two punctures on successive tests, forcing him to drive the Porto street stages on a broken rim.
Those issues dropped him to seventh, the position he crashed from.
The 2018 World Rally Championship title battle took a major turn last week, but in an FIA court appeal rather than at round six in Portugal.
At Rally Mexico in March reigning WRC champion Sebastien Ogier was stripped of his four powerstage bonus points after he hit a chicane on the final stage.
He was one of six drivers to hit the barrier, but the only one penalised.
Amid what is becoming the tightest WRC title fight in years, insiders are concerned that the FIA decision has exposed shortcomings in the regulations and set a potentially troublesome precedent – with Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and Toyota man Esapekka Lappi penalised under the same rule in Portugal.
Autosport has obtained key evidence from the appeal that raises further questions over the decisions taken following events in Mexico.
The Las Minas stage ran twice on the final day of Rally Mexico, as SS21 and then the bonus-points SS22 powerstage.
After watching Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai collide with all three parts of the chicane, M-Sport Ford contacted the event organisers for clarification of the consequences of hitting the barriers there.
An email reply, sent to all teams, said the matter would be referred to the stewards.
Ogier hit the first two elements of the chicane on SS22, was referred to the stewards and had 10 seconds added to his time for the stage.
He dropped from second fastest to seventh and therefore went from four powerstage bonus points to zero.
M-Sport appealed that decision but the FIA International Court of Appeal upheld the stewards’ judgement.
Making the chicanes
The FIA’s Rally Safety Guidelines advises chicanes should be made from straw bales, water tanks, a wall of connected tyres or a concrete barrier.
The Las Minas chicane was made of plastic so light M-Sport presented evidence of a child pushing one of the barriers along the ground.
M-Sport also provided data from Ogier’s Fiesta (above) showing that the car’s speed through the 70 metres of the stage featuring the chicane was virtually identical from SS21 – when he didn’t touch the barriers – to SS22 when he did.
The SS21/SS22 discrepancy
Ogier contravened sporting regulation 14.2, which stipulates crews must follow the route as laid out in the roadbook, in Mexico.
But key WRC figures are questioning why Neuville wasn’t penalised in the same fashion after he hit the chicane on SS21.
Deviation from the route
M-Sport directed the appeal to a stewards’ decision from the 2014 Rally Poland, when Andreas Mikkelsen was found guilty of deviating from the route – a contravention of the same regulation that Ogier fell foul of.
Mikkelsen was caught cutting a corner with all four wheels on the grass, a shorter and faster route. He was handed a €5000 fine and no time penalty.
M-Sport offered evidence to demonstrate Ogier’s route through the chicane in Mexico could not have offered an advantage of more than a tenth of a second.
Not all barriers are equal
Sebastien Loeb, Jari-Matti Latvala, Dani Sordo and the powerstage winner Ott Tanak all made contact with one or more elements of the chicane on SS22.
According to the ICA, the important aspect of their collision is that they hit the second and third barriers.
The FIA ICA outlined the reasons it felt the first barrier was more important than the other two, stating: “The court finds that this makes an essential difference between the other competitors’ case and the case of the appellant’s car #1, as the first set of elements of a chicane has the most important impact when it comes to: (i) adapting the car’s path, (ii) reducing the car’s speed and (iii) meeting the safety objectives of a chicane.””
In its evidence to the appeal, the FIA stated Ogier, “did not merely touch the elements of the chicane but completely displaced the first element and was the only one to do so.”
M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson told Autosport his squad was “very disappointed with the decision. We felt – and we still feel – we have a very strong case here. We’re very interested to see where we go from here.”
One of the primary concerns about the decision is the precedent it sets.
“What now?” said one senior service park source. “Every time a driver clips a corner, hits a chicane or touches a tyre barrier, do we expect the stewards to step in?
“In Mexico these were lightweight plastic barriers that were very, very easily displaced.
“We had somebody in the stage watching this section and when Neuville destroyed the chicane, the barriers weren’t put back in exactly the same place they were before he hit them. How could they be when there were no markings on the road to say where they had to be?
“Look at the difference between Ogier and Tanak coming through in SS22. For Tanak, the grey barrier is nearest the car whereas when Ogier [in-car shot above] went through it was the orange barrier – which is wider at the base. This is because the barriers were put back wrong.”
Pictures of those barriers assembled in a different order – and showing an apparently tighter line for Ogier than Tanak in SS2 – are available from M-Sport’s evidence here.
One of the things this decision appears to expose is a lack of consistency, not only in the structure and placement of chicanes but also in the approach from the powers that be.
We got another example last Saturday night with a stewards’ decision that left Sordo (and, after the finish on Sunday, Lappi too) hit with a 10s penalty for not going around the tyres in Rally of Portugal’s Porto street stage.
A pre-event bulletin from the organisers stated: “A penalty of 30s will be applied to any competitor who fails to follow the indicated route at any of these points.”
In their decision regarding Sordo’s infringement, the stewards justify a 10s penalty by saying: “Bulletin 1 sets a 30s time penalty to be applied to any competitor who fails to follow the route as indicated in the diagrams.
“However, the stewards consider that the penalty stated in Bulletin 1 is merely meant for cases where a driver fails to complete all necessary laps around each roundabout and not for cases where the bales are displaced by accident.”
The diagram shows the line around the tyres, it doesn’t show Sordo’s line through the tyres. Sordo, therefore, failed to go around the tyres. You can’t almost break the law…
The bulletin makes no mention of a penalty for hitting the tyres, but in Mexico there was no mention of a penalty for hitting the chicane. If hitting the tyres is following the route in Portugal; then hitting the chicane is following the route in Mexico.
Now more than ever the WRC needs strength of leadership, permanent stewards, a uniform approach and, above anything, concrete regulation.
At the Monza Rally, for example, crews know that if they hit a chicane it’s a five-second penalty. Ogier, Sordo, Lappi and co would certainly have given the barriers a wider berth in that circumstance. Let’s have the same in the WRC.
A few years ago, the FIA sought input on the best way to make chicanes, Rally Germany’s straw bales was seen as best practice and a regulation was expected to follow. But it’s still awaited..
Failure to address this will turn the teams in on themselves – as has already started – and cause a tit-for-tat approach that will cost time, money and credibility.
The Mexico punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime. All we can hope is that any championship battle involving Ogier is decided by a differential of more than four points.