We all like getting close to the action, especially when it comes to rallying, but recent events have reminded us of the need to stay safe
Matt Prior
13 March 2015

I almost wrote this column last October. I’d just finished the Cambrian Rally in a Land Rover Defender and had come away worried about how close to the stage some spectators had been standing.

But the Defender is quiet, at least by rally car standards, and I was the last car running on every stage. My co-driver reckoned that spectators thought the stage had finished, hadn’t heard us coming and were already making their way off-stage.

So I put it down to an anomaly; certainly, leaning on the horn as I approached made most of them stand away. Most, but certainly not all. It turns out I was right to have worried, too.

Last month the chief executive of the Motor Sports Association (MSA), Rob Jones, published an open letter to spectators, expressing how, after he’d looked at video footage and photos from recent rallies, he was “astonished and dismayed” that a minority of spectators “continue to display a wanton disregard for their own personal well-being” on rally stages.

His letter follows four spectator deaths on two Scottish rallies in the past two years and a review of safety by the Scottish government, whose recommendations the MSA has accepted and is now implementing.

It’ll implement them quickly, but Jones says he needs “to remind all spectators of the fact that they are ultimately responsible for their own personal safety”. There’s only so much the MSA can do, in other words. Rally stages are long, it’s hard to monitor every yard, and people need to stop standing in stupid places, because more accidents will simply shut rallying down.

“Unless these few idiotic spectators concerned change their attitude immediately and behave responsibly,” Jones wrote, “there will be no future for stage rallying in the UK. I am not talking about next year, or the year after; I am talking about right now.”

Trouble is, the simple fact that you’re reading this means you don’t need to be told, but evidently some people still don’t listen. Perhaps they just don’t quite understand. I want to tell them something: that some people aren’t very good at driving rally cars. I know because I’m one of them. If I were watching me rally in Wales, I’d want to stand in Swindon.

A Defender is about two metres tall, it weighs the best part of two tonnes, there’s no ABS and no stability control, it’s very short and pretty unstable and I was driving one at up to 80mph on a surface that had little grip one moment and precisely none the next. From inside the car, then, some spectators look terrifyingly close and the prospect of hitting them seems perilously real. Please stand back.

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Comments
4

13 March 2015
The number of spectators on rally stages who stand on the outside of a corner and therefore in direct line of travel when a car is turning, never ceases to surprise me. Im only surprised more spectators arent seriously injured in an off.

13 March 2015
Not sure if it their own or the drivers they wish for. Some clowns - and this is Internationally known - have a freakish intent to get into totally the wrong places. Watch Rally Portugal - they stand ON the bloody path of the car until the very last moment taking photo's and then leap out of the way. They just need to slip, miss a step, trip or simply misjudge the speed on the onrushing vehicle and they are mincemeat. I have competed in national and International rallies in the 80's and it is SCAREY !!! As previous comment - standing on the OUTSIDE line especially on a corner seems to be the best spot - to what? DIE. Driver slides wide mistimes his braking point and they are bonnet decorations in bright red !!!
ONE critism which needs to be dealt with by each organizer is the OOO and 001 and 002 cars which precede the race cars. Sadly these drivers are not following the rules - they are just having fun and practicing their skills. WRONG..Their numbers and their JOB is to make sure the route is safe for the drivers and that spectators are far enough away and not standing in daft places. 99% of this is not done.Please - if you go to watch these events - DO take the highest vantage point - including trees !!! on top of big rocks somewhere that you and your kids and wife will be able to enjoy but have protection. This is the greatest sport in the motoring world - you will - if you have never been before - shake your head in wonder at the speeds and control by the drivers - but remember - they are just human as well

what's life without imagination

13 March 2015
As an ex-competitor and current marshal in stage rallies I must echo these views.Forest rallies may not exist after this year if spectator behaviour does not improve drastically.Rob Jones' open letter hits the nail on the head-the Forestry Commission,the Scottish Government and the HSE are all wanting immediate improvements in safety.A small number of idiots(some of whom I could name) are going to kill our sport if we don't take action.Of course the readers on here are all responsible fans-so-if you see these richardheads-try to stop them: and if you can't try to identify them( photos etc..) and get the information to the event organisers.After the incidents on Rally Yorkshire last year,we know that the Police will follow up these actions-after all some of it is attempted murder!

Arthur Heaton

14 March 2015
What's happened to Steve Sutcliffe?

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