It’s a dead horse, and it’s been dead for awhile. But here at World Rally Blog, we are going to keep beating it as long as is needed. Before my trip to Spain, I hoped with all of my heart that I wouldn’t need to write such an article. However, what I experienced today affected me so deeply that I feel I don’t have a choice. Once again, the issue of spectator safety is going to rear its ugly head, and I apologize that you are going to have to listen to this rant another time. Before I sound like I am trashing RACC Rally Catalunya, I need to clarify. I experienced two very different scenarios today on SS2 Mora d’Ebre-Asco and SS4 Bot. The negative situation that I will describe on SS4 occurred on a corner where no marshals were present.
Let me first talk about what a fantastic job the marshals did on SS2. We arrived early and found a good vantage spot at the end of a long downhill straight. We were on the outside, but the apex of the corner was far beyond us. In addition, we were on a berm about 10 feet above the stage. It felt like a safe place. The marshals came to us and said that they felt comfortable with our location, but if the officials in the spectator control cars had an issue, we would have to move. No problem at all! I appreciated their willingness to communicate with us with safety as the end goal. In addition, with the WRC cars running at three minute intervals, they took a sensible approach with letting spectators cross the stage only in the first minute after a car passed. After that, they held everyone who wanted to cross until the next car. In the end, we were allowed to remain in our location and had a fantastic time. I have to say that I was truly impressed with my first interactions with the safety marshals at a WRC event. They were top class and deserve to be recognized.
On our way to SS4 (Bot), my wife and I took a wrong turn and ended up in an olive field! From that point, we used our GPS to navigate on foot to the stage. We arrived at a corner about 250 meters past a junction where marshals were stationed. Most of the spectators were at that location, but a few had filtered down to where we were located. Everyone was positioned in a sensible location when the 00 and 0 cars passed through. Then, in the 5 minutes between the passing of car 0 and Sebastien Ogier, all hell broke loose! Several individuals jumped from their places high up on a bank and ran down to the edge of the road. A few set up GoPro cameras and returned to a safe location which was no problem. However, others immediately gravitated towards high risk areas – on the edge of the road, on the outside, and at or below road height. At that point, I was caught up in a crisis of conscience. I didn’t want to be obnoxious in a country where I don’t even speak the language, but at the same time, I have strong feelings about this issue and it’s implications for rallying.
In the end, I yelled in English, “Get out of the stage… unsafe… unsafe!” a few times which earned me a few nasty looks, but had no effect. After about the 5th car had passed, a group of unsupervised kids, one as young as perhaps ten years old arrived to the location. Upon seeing the placement of those irresponsible spectators, they began to eagerly head into the same area with their cameras ready. It was at that moment that I knew I needed to do something. In the distance one of the cars could be heard approaching as one of the kids was climbing down towards a ditch at the edge of the road. Without giving it much thought, I ran/slid down the bank and grabbed his arm to pull him back. The car passed spraying us with dust and gravel, but nothing worse. At that point, I gave the poor kid a bit of a tongue lashing in English of which I’m not too sure he understood. However, it seemed to spook him and his friends enough that they stayed high up on the bank for the rest of the stage.
I felt very hesitant to write about this because I don’t want to come across as a self-righteous snob. I also don’t want to put down the efforts towards safety made by the WRC and the RACC. Overall, so far, I have been nothing but impressed by their work. However, marshals can’t be everywhere and there will always be remote corners of stages that cannot be supervised. The reason that today’s events affected me so deeply were two-fold. First of all, there was no excuse for the actions of those adults. It’s one thing if ignorance or lack of knowledge causes someone to stand in the wrong location. However, premeditated irresponsibility is a completely different matter. They knew they were going to push the boundaries, and that’s why they waited until all the course cars had passed. What made this behavior even more difficult to stomach, however, was it’s effect on the young fans that arrived later. When they saw the behavior of those adults, they made the assumption that it was OK to do the same thing. This is why irresponsibility on rallies is so difficult to stamp out. The foolish actions of just a few individuals can have ripple effects that influence an exponential number of people to make the same mistakes.
There really is no excuse for this anymore. No one’s life is worth a photograph. The future of rallying is not worth a photograph. Most of us are not professionals. We don’t need to be taking photos at a rally to make a living. We are here to have fun and be enthralled by the spectacle that we witness. With today’s technology in cameras, fantastic photos can be taken from a responsible location. To be honest, the most interesting rally photos are not the ones that feature a car close-up and nothing else. Rallying is about the man, the machine, and the environment. It’s often the photographs that are taken from a distance that are the most memorable and best capture the spirit of rallying. It’s not 1986 anymore, and no one needs to be within touching distance of a rally car to produce a quality photo.
I promise that this is the last you will hear about this issue over the rest of the weekend. I’ve said my piece and I do not want to dwell on it any more and ruin your and my enjoyment of RACC Rally Catalunya. Tomorrow, you’ll hear more about all that is fantastic about rallying and the WRC. However, today, thank you for listening and letting me get this weight off my shoulders.