What a dramatic Saturday morning we had on Rally México.
It started off with a bit of indecision in the DirtFish car. Unusually I wasn’t sure where to go – start of the first stage, end of the first stage or end of the second stage? There are lots of issues in Mexico playing into that decision-making process, such telephone reception, the police letting us into the end of stages and what will make the best content for our DirtFish fans.
Ultimately we decided we would try to get to the first stage of the day, and goodness me that turned out to be the best possible decision.
So we got to the end of stage one in the morning and we’re there at the stop-line.
Stop-lines are my second home, I love it there. It gives me a real sense of what the rally’s all about. There’s adrenalin, wonderful smells, and sounds, and you get to see the drivers coming through with sweat on their faces. Stop-lines are wonderful.
We were watching two battles at the front. One was between Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville, and we got excited when Elfyn set an amazing time. We then turned our attention to the battle between rally leader Esapekka Lappi and Sébastien Ogier. Ogier came in, and then we were waiting for Lappi…
The three minutes became four minutes, and the looks on the faces of the marshals started to tell the story. And then we heard! Lappi had stopped on the stage, he’d crashed. Flames had been spotted. Goodness me, what do we do?
Well, we sprang into action. We established exactly where Lappi had stopped, using screenshots of video footage sent from the DirtFish newsdesk, and we pulled up Google Maps. We were working out exactly where he was – could we get to Esapekka Lappi?
The ideal situation is to be able to drive, but we quickly established that we couldn’t. It was impossible to drive to where he was. So what’s the next option? Well, you walk.
There’s a lot of decision-making in that option as well. It can get up to 86F here, we’re at high altitude – 2500 metres – so a lot to think about on if we wanted to walk the 2.48 miles.
Well, of course we had to. That was the news story, and we always do our absolute best to bring you the news at DirtFish. So I basically set off into this stage and it was uphill for the first 900 to 1200m, and I decided to make a little vlog of the road and the fans. I had decided I would take every opportunity to lessen the impact of the walk.
First of all there was a guy on a horse. I tried very hard to convince him with money. I took out 200 pesos ($10.57) and shouted ‘Senor, take me to the crash!’. But he didn’t understand a word and off he plodded. So I kept on walking.
Next thing that comes along is the police chief in his pick-up truck. Thank goodness he stopped – I jumped in the back and off we went and he saved me an hour’s walk. But facing the wrong way, I stood up in the back of the pick-up truck and we were maybe 40 or 50m away from the stricken car of Lappi and Janne Ferm. And honestly, my heart stopped when I saw that pole embedded in the back of Lappi’s car.
No one was at the car and for a second it confused me a little bit. Then I spoke to the police and they said ‘no, no it’s not a telegraph pole, it is a live power cable’. So they’d established a corden around the car and then at that point you’re thinking it’s just such a shocking situation.
The crash itself was shocking. The fire we heard about, that was shocking. The fact that’s not a telegraph pole, it’s a live power pole, just jolts you. Quite literally jolts you into what might have happened, what could have been.
But thankfully I could quickly make out Esapekka and Janne sitting under a tree and managed to shout across to them ‘are you both OK?’.
Yes, they were both OK.
They were on the other side of the corden, so I thought ‘goodness me, how am I going to get there?’. Well I’m going to have to go cross-country.
I had to do a massive loop around, down through the bush, followed a water crossing down and managed to go through that water crossing, over a couple of walls, through a gate, over a barbed wire fence and eventually back up the hill to where Lappi was. And thank goodness he came across a barbed wire fence too to talk to me, because ultimately there was a fence that I couldn’t get across.
It’s difficult in those situations because you never want to impose upon a driver. You know they’re very contemplative, it can be very raw and you have to judge every situation on its own merits.
In that situation I said ‘look, I’d love to do an interview Esapekka, a lot of people worried about you, just really to say that you’re OK’. He went ‘yeah no problem, I’ll do that’, and I said ‘maybe a few words about the crash?’. He replied: ‘you ask whatever you like, Colin’.
We thank Esapekka for that, he’s such a good sport. He described what happened and the fact he got out of line on a previous corner and just carried a bit too much speed into the ditch and smacked that pole.
Once they put that fire out, it was only at that point they realized that those power lines were live.
The fire came very close to totally consuming the car, they thank Gus Greensmith for lending him his fire extinguisher. The flames – I saw some pictures and some videos of those – were quite established, they did really well to put that out.
Once they’d put that fire out, it was only at that point they realized that those power lines were live. They saw blue smoke, sparks and flames coming from the power lines.
When I was there we didn’t have the recovery trucks, we didn’t have the electricity board there, but we had the local police who did a fantastic job – a magnificent job – in containing the scene and creating that corden.
There was nothing else happening because there was nothing else that could happen. They were waiting for confirmation that the power had been turned off, and they were waiting for the power board to turn up with their repair trucks and cranes to move the concrete power pole off the car.
Then there are protocols that swing into play for the recovery of vehicles with electric power units. All of that had to be dealt with. A real shocking scene, and a dramatic scene.
HYUNDAI CAN’T FIX LAPPI’S CAR FOR SUNDAY RESTART
No miracle fix means early end for early leader
We got the story, but the next thing was how do we get that story to our DirtFish readers? We were nearly 3.4 miles away from the stop-line where we had a little bit of signal, so I realized I was going to have to walk back up this hill.
Let me tell you that it was like the hairpins on the Col de Turini. It was the steepest uphill ascent, and I thought there was no choice in the matter, I’m going to have to walk. It was a huge effort, and thank goodness that courtesy of George Donaldson – who’s been with us at times this weekend – there was a bottle of iced tea in my backpack. That was basically just iced sugar, and was very useful in walking back up the road.
Eventually for the last 1.2 miles I did manage to flag a car down. Again I tried to offer payment for a ride, I tried to convince a lady with a motorbike and I’m not sure she quite understood what I was offfering her money for!
Thank goodness I did manage to get a lift back, but that’s what we do. Having to pull out all the stops to get the news is what I live for.
We’re so fortunate to be able to report on these things, to be able to bring you that news as it happens and we never ever want to see drama or incidents like that. But when they happen it’s so important that we explain them – that we bring the news in an honest and sympathetic manner to rally fans around the world.
When stories like this happen we do our best to bring it to the fans, and thankfully we managed to get that completed again this time.