Kris Meeke has come out strongly against newly installed chicanes throughout this year’s Rally Finland route, describing them as “stupid” and to the detriment to the rally’s safety.
The 2017 generation WRC car has more downforce than ever before in the championship’s history, and combined with a significant power boost from last season’s machines, the changes left organisers worried about the speeds through the long flat-out sections the rally is well known for.
To combat this, artificial chicanes have been added to nearly every stage on the event, but Meeke feels their introduction will only make the chances of accidents higher than before.
“Personally I don’t agree with them at all,” Meeke told Autosport. “We’ve seen more incidents at shakedown this morning than on any other shakedown and they’re all because of these chicanes.”
One of the Citroën driver’s primary concerns was the level of uncertainty regarding the temporary nature of the straw bale chicane markers. Having been hit multiple times, it required replacement during the course of the shakedown stage, and Sébastien Ogier had his fastest time wiped for missing said chicane. The lack of clarity with the consequences of such incidents left Meeke with many unanswered questions.
“What happens if the chicane is knocked down? What happens for the next car? Do they slow down? Do they go on ahead, what? Will there still be an obstacle in the road when the next car arrives? Or will there be a marshal in the road rebuilding the chicane?
“This adds too many unknowns. We need to accept that these cars are just a little bit faster. With the aero we have the cars are safer and more stable at high speed and we have that bit more safety in them.
“I think [the chicanes are] a stupid idea and I don’t think this Rally Finland will be any safer with them. It’s more dangerous. I think it’s the wrong move.”
Jari-Matti Latvala was more even-keeled in his argument, suggesting the concept was solid in theory but lacking in the quality of its execution.
“With some of the big roads we are using, the chicanes are needed,” he said. “Without the chicanes, the average speeds would have been so high. I think Kai [Tarkiainen, Rally Finland clerk of the course] is right: we would have maybe 140km/h.”
“They are quite tight in places and what I’m concerned about is that they have some concrete blocks at the entrance and exit. If you are a little bit wide and you hit one of these it could cause a puncture.”
In preparation for this year’s rally, double world champion Marcus Grönholm was involved as a consultant, inspecting the rally route and helping lay the new chicanes in place. One FIA member told Autosport that it appeared his words of warning were not adhered to when implementing the designs.
“When we went to look at the route, the intention was to have a chicane which slowed the car – not one that almost stopped them,” they said. “This was what we decided with Marcus, but it looks like the plan hasn’t come off. We need to look at this.”
The FIA has suggested they may look into revising the design of the chicanes ahead of tomorrow’s stages, but Tarkiainen stood by the placement of the chicanes at present.
“The chicanes were planned so that they cut high-speed sections and they were designed also to stop cutting into the chicane through ditches. They are driveable, but for sure fairly tight.”