Two Rally Poland stages canceled following concerns over spectator safety

Two Rally Poland stages canceled following concerns over spectator safety

WRC crews have raised concerns over spectator safety issues that forced World Rally Championship organisers to cancel two Rally Poland stages.

The World Rally Championship officials are pleading with fans at Rally Poland to stay safe and not cause any further stage cancellations after a day of significant interruption due to spectator control issues.

The staggering number of fans forced the shakedown stage to be interrupted before the main event even started. Majority of the crews missed stage three and stage seven, while SS6 was put on hold as the police, FIA, rally officials, and volunteers ensured the road was free of spectators and safe for the drivers.

Ultimately, a significant chunk of the field has only covered 54 miles instead of the scheduled 71.

When the WRC last visited Poland in 2017, spectator safety proved to be a problem, resulting in the country being dropped from the WRC calendar in the following year, Therefore, this year’s event is a one-off.

In accordance with standard WRC procedures, safety cars drive around each stage to make sure that spectators are positioned safely before the stage begins. But after the cars have gone through, it appears a few fans are moving into different and dangerous locations.

Toyota’s championship contender Evans has expressed his disappointment with the interruptions and has called for a solution before Saturday. He finished Friday’s run in third place, two seconds behind Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen, the rally leader.

“These stages are not thrown out for fun, it’s a pretty serious thing canceling a stage – but they also have a responsibility to us and to everybody watching,” he said.

“The hands of the people making the decisions are tied, but it’s just a shame it’s the same six years later. It is very annoying, but I don’t also know what anybody can do.

“The decision is the decision. Let’s say this was already a concern and it seems like it is still reality, but definitely something needs to be done for tomorrow.”

Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera has urged fans to stay safe on the stages.

“It is quite frustrating especially like this afternoon when we had the last forest stage and we had good tyres and a plan to catch some positions for tomorrow, we would have hoped to drive all the stages,” said Rovanpera.

“It is always nice to see the fans, but they also need to be in a safe place.”

WRC event director Simon Larkin has reinforced that safety is paramount while confirming that it is a minority of fans that are causing the problem.

“There are a lot of marshals out there and what we have seen is, for want of a better word there are a lot of professional spectators out there that know where to hide when the safety cars come through and then they flood back out of the forest,” he said.

“This is not a casual fan doing this, these people know what they are doing, they want to risk their lives, but we don’t want risk their lives.”

WRC Commission president Pernilla Solberg defended the efforts of the organisers involved. She spent time in rally control and watched the team – including the police – trying to regain control of the stage.

“The organisers, they do an amazing job, and they have all the marshals and police to help them, and then [there are] just a few spectators who don’t want to listen,” she said.

“I know the work that Michèle [Mouton, FIA safety delegate] puts in, trying to make sure there’s safety for the crews and for the spectators on the stages.

“I really, really hope now we can make a joint effort to really send this message across to please respect the marshals, respect the safety crews who are there for you to make a safe rally so we can have a good day tomorrow – so we don’t see [a repeat] of this.

“From what I’ve seen and heard in race control today and from everybody involved, they have done an amazing job – but it’s just a few people who don’t want to listen.

“I think they’ve (the organizers) done everything they can. I haven’t heard anything suggesting otherwise. You had even the police today with a helicopter hovering above the fans and telling them ‘Please move, we will cancel the stage’ but even that didn’t help.

“I know FIA is fully on board to try and help the promoter and the crews are now sending messages on their social media to say, please respect this. Let’s have a good day tomorrow and Sunday.”

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