There are doubts over the future of Rally Poland following accusations of haphazard safety standards behind closed doors by teams and drivers competing in the event last weekend, according to Motorsport News.
The rally’s contract expires this year, therefore a renewal is required for Poland to continue into 2018 and beyond. After a string of issues ranging from general spectator safety to a fire engine entering a live stage, it appears the majority of the paddock is lobbying for the WRC to stay away from the Mikolajki-based event in future.
“How can we come back here? It makes no sense, the people don’t understand that the car can go in any direction,” explained one driver anonymously. “We are in these holes [ruts] in the road and then sometimes the car is flying out and it can go anywhere. They stand behind straw bales and think that this can save them – no chance. If we take the sixth gear into the field, it can be the big disaster.”
The Polish event has been in trouble with the FIA over its safety record in the past, receiving a ‘yellow card’ back in 2015, and the rally can expect to be brandished a red card for multiple infractions this year.
Despite this, the FIA’s rally director Jarmo Mahonen insisted no decision had been made, and that time would be taken to investigate every safety failing before reaching a conclusion as to the rally’s future.
“There have been some safety problems throughout the rally and we have to now investigate and then draw our conclusions,” he said. “The fire truck incident is being investigated locally, this was nothing something related to the rally.
“But how could this happen? My information is that he nearly ran over the policeman… We were very lucky nothing happened, but this does not belong to rallying.”
The other major sticking point was the safety of spectators, where fans appeared to have free reign as to where they could watch the stages from, placing them potentially straight into the path of danger. Mahonen put this down to cultural differences, potentially exacerbated by much of the crowd coming from neighbouring countries like Estonia and Lithuania, stopping the organiser’s attempts at communicating spectator safety advice from being fully effective.
“There is not the spectating culture we have in Scandinavia, they just want to come close to the cars. It’s been a very busy weekend for Michele [Mouton, FIA safety delegate], it’s been a weekend for us to survive.”
The teams were similarly shocked at the events which transpired over the weekend, which included one spectator being thumped by a rock during Shakedown who was taken to hospital for injuries severe enough to require an induced coma.
“This is incredible, unbelievable that this can happen,” said Michel Nandan, team principal at Hyundai. “The rally has been done here since a long time, this is not their first rally and to see this is actually quite frightening.”
Citroën team boss Yves Matton made clear that regardless of the rally’s positive characteristics, the continued safety of the event was paramount.
“There can never be any compromise with safety,” he said. “I think it’s important to come to events which are different and this event is different, but we cannot compromise safety.”
With the event under pressure from all angles, rally spokesperson Andrzej Borowczyk defended the event’s organisation, suggesting the incident of a fire engine entering a live stage and encountering a competing car while driving in the wrong direction was one out of their control.
“This was human error,” claimed Borowczyk. “The police was there, there was a barrier there and this stupid guy drove straight in – I don’t know what going on in his head. The driver of the car sent information to the Clerk of the Course, but he was not complaining.
“Nobody can say this area wasn’t protected, it was. The fireman was from here, he had been involved in the rally from before – I don’t understand what happened. It was an idiotic human error. I strongly say, if we made a mistake then people can say: ‘OK guys, you made a big mistake.’ But this wasn’t the case, but what can we do?”
Despite the worrying mistake, Borowczyk insisted that Poland would keep its place in the World Rally Championship for next year.
“Look at the pictures and the number of fans we bring,” he said. “Rally Poland brings something to the championship and I am sure we will be back.”