In one of the more bizarre reasons to be disciplined by the FIA, 2024 Dakar Rally competitor Marco Piana has received a fine of €500 for having the French flag affixed to his truck as national flags are banned for the race. The fine can be suspended until the end of the rally as long as he does not commit the infraction again.
According to Piana, at the start of Stage #9 on Tuesday, an FIA scrutineer noticed his name was missing from the door of his #645 GINAF truck. Asked to rectify this, Piana complied and grabbed a sticker from inside the truck before applying it as requested. However, the decal included both his name as well as the French flag signifying his nationality, which he and his Xtremeplus team did not notice until later that night when they returned to the bivouac. The flag was already removed by the time the FIA summoned him for a hearing.
National flags are the norm and enshrined in Article 21.1 of the FIA Cross-Country Rally Sporting Regulations: “The first initial(s) and surname of the driver and the co-driver, followed by the national flags of the country according to Art. 9.4 of the (International Sporting) Code, must appear on both sides of the front wings or front doors of the vehicle.” However, the Dakar Rally’s organising body Amaury Sport Organisation introduced Article 6.3 (FIA) and Article 22.214.171.124 (FIM) to their race rulebook for 2024, both of which state flags are no longer allowed by the competitor’s name. Although the FIA and FIM hold the final say over their rules, both can grant waivers in “very exceptional cases.”
An official explanation for the ban was never given, though many surmise it is out of safety concerns pertaining to the ongoing war in Gaza. While Palestine and Israel are too far away from Dakar host country Saudi Arabia for the fighting to spill over, the ASO expressed worry that such a contentious conflict in the region could inspire attacks against racers sympathetic to certain sides, and managing race security is already difficult enough in an open desert. Since the Dakar’s move to Saudi Arabia in 2020, driver safety has mostly been intact save for a string of explosions before the 2022 race that claimed Camelia Liparoti’s support truck and severely injured driver Philippe Boutron; the latter led to a terrorism probe by French authorities and prompted the ASO to move personnel from hotels to camps.
The Gaza war led to the 2023 Jordan Baja being called off, while the Houthis’ involvement by attacking international shipping has impacted competitors heading to the Dakar or other rally raids in the region.
Piana’s GINAF is a support truck for Xtremeplus’ three SSV entries piloted by Michele Cinotto, Shinsuke Umeda, and Jorge Waghenführ. Nonetheless, he is still classified as a competitor in the T5.2 subcategory, and is currently thirty-second overall in the Truck class with a best finish of twenty-seventh in Stages #4 and #6.