The FIA has concluded Rally Japan’s organizer seriously breached safety measures when a civilian car entered SS4 while the World Rally Championship stage was live on Friday.
Midway through the fourth test a member of the public entered the stage while it was live, and narrowly avoided a collision with WRC2 driver Sami Pajari who needed to take avoiding action to prevent a crash.
Having avoided the collision Pajari stopped on the road and the stage was subsequently red-flagged but the FIA immediately launched an initial review to establish how the incident occurred.
That review has now been completed and the FIA has deemed that the organizers failed to take reasonable measures in line with the approved Safety Plan and as such has found the organizer to be in breach of Article 12.2.1.h of the 2022 FIA International Sporting Code.
The FIA’s investigation established that the public vehicle joined the stage at a junction that had been previously taped off but that was not staffed by a marshal.
Furthermore, while the stewards accept that tape had been in place when the event got underway, they believe the tape wasn’t present when the car entered the stage, meaning the driver wouldn’t have necessarily been aware they were entering a live stage.
It also transpired that the road the driver arrived on the stage from linked to other public roads that were open at the time and, as such, the stewards deemed that a marshal should have been present at that junction. This is the failure that caused the breach.
Marshals did discover the car on the stage before Pajari came across it and they tried, with the assistance of a photographer, to prevent the driver from going any further. But while the car was removed quickly, it still resulted in a near miss with a competitor.
An FIA statement said: “The Clerk of Course reported that the public vehicle had entered the stage at a junction that was taped off but not manned and proceeded to travel along the stage in the direction against the rally route.
“The public vehicle traveled past a marshal who relayed that the public vehicle was in the stage to the preceding marshal who, with the assistance of a photographer, was able to have the car removed from the stage as quickly as possible.
“Communication was as timely as it could be considering the difficult terrain involved, which meant that radio contact was required to be by way of two-way radio between the marshals involved initially, followed by advising the Stage Commander, who in turn notified Rally Control of the incident. Despite the actions of the marshals two rally vehicles were to encounter the public vehicle coming towards them, which resulted in near misses for each competitor.
“In the course of their investigation, the Stewards have since identified that it appears highly unlikely that the junction the public vehicle entered the stage from was taped off, as evidenced by photographs and onboard video footage from several cars that traveled through the stage before the public vehicle entered the stage.
“The tape can be seen attached and wrapped around a post on one side of the road, in a manner consistent of a typical set up, ready to be taped in place across the road.
“It is highly unlikely that the tape was removed and then wrapped around the post by anyone after it might have been previously taped across the road.
“This view is supported by the video footage from earlier competitors in the stage showing the junction as being open with no taping present other than what was wrapped around the post. It seems that the public vehicle was simply able to turn unimpeded onto the stage.
“This has identified a serious failure in the safety process given that several official vehicles had traveled the stage prior to the stage going live.”
Having reviewed all of the available evidence, the FIA was satisfied that this was an “isolated incident” and that the remaining stages complied with correct safety procedures and, as such, allowed the rally to continue.
But due to the serious safety breach the FIA has now instructed the organizer to further improve safety measures while also instructing the stewards to refer the matter to the FIA Closed Road Commission for further investigation.
And while the FIA is happy for the event to continue for now, it has made it clear in its report that should the safety plan be compromised or breached any further, the rally will be brought to an immediate end.
Those measures would appear to have been adhered to on Saturday with all but one of the stages being completed.
Drivers had been due to complete the superspecial twice at the end of the day, however a delay in starting the initial run through that test meant the second was canceled.