How a WRC classic transformed its attitude

Twenty years on from an infamous safety row, things are very different on the modern Monte

Sebastien Loeb

Michèle Mouton is a difficult person to please – it’s the way world-class competitors are made. But Mouton’s insistence on perfection has followed her from her driving career into life as the FIA’s World Rally Championship safety delegate.

Last month’s Monte Carlo Rally is, by its mountainous nature, one of the more difficult events to police, but it absolutely delivered on its promises to Mouton and the FIA.

Two decades ago, the Automobile Club de Monaco landed itself in the hottest of hot water when it issued a statement following the decision of then FIA safety delegate Jacek Bartos to cancel a stage due to his numbers of spectators on the road from L’Epine to Rosans in 2000.

The statement read: “The Automobile Club’s clerks of the course have had the regret to have to cancel, following a request from Mr Jacek Bartos, special stage number six.

“The Automobile Club does not approve of this decision, judging that, contrary to the Observer’s assessment, the size and alleged unruly behaviour of the crowd, usual at the start, tends as experience has shown to normalise itself once the first car is running.

“Everyone will understand that, considering that the hasty decision from the Observer was made in public, the Automobile Club could not take on itself any risk whatsoever in that stage.

“The sporting management is therefore becoming difficult to assume, once this notion of risk, which is part of motor racing, is not accepted anymore.”

That communication rocked the service park.

Twenty years on and the Automobile Club de Monaco’s attitude couldn’t be more different.

And Mouton’s report reflects those giant steps taken by the world’s most recognisable rally last month.

“Since I am here for the first time four years ago, the improvement is unbelievable,” said Mouton. “This year I go and the fans are 25 or 30 meters back, they are in the right place and nobody is moving. For the first time, I have really no notes for this event. I am so pleased.

“The collaboration the organisers made with the police is fantastic, they increase the spectator zones and they really educate the people.”

Sébastien Ogier

Mouton was also quick to praise the work of her deputy safety delegate, former co-driver Nicolas Klinger.

“Since Wales [Rally GB] last year, we have had Nicolas is in rally control,” she said.

“He is watching the caravan [of safety cars] go through the stage I am telling him the zones to keep watching and to look for the people moving.

“We know the fans hide from us and then move after we pass so they can come closer to the road.

Michele Mouton

“Nicolas is sitting with the race director and they have direct contact with the marshals on scene, so if they see something they can sort it straight away. This time there was nothing.

“Like I said, I know where this event was and that’s what makes this year so really impressive.”

With a broad smile, Mouton checks herself.

“I would say this event was… nearly perfect.”

As always, perfection will take a little bit more.