“Getting done for corner cutting in the WRC is bulls***”.
My brother is quite a passive fan of the World Rally Championsip, but this had piqued his interest. And he wasn’t alone – the Facebook comments were flooded with outrage too.
“What a load of toss!”
“No way to win a rally, Gryazin was untouchable all weekend.”
“The sport just lost its credibility for fixing results like this.”
“Talk about making yourself the most unliked guy in the service park from now on!”
We had a good weekend website-wise due to the advent of DirtFish Live Center, but I didn’t see anything rack up the numbers quite as quickly as this story did.
Yohan Rossel’s successful protest into Nikolay Gryazin, who was found guilty of leaving the defined roadway on SS14 and was thus given a five-second penalty which lost him WRC2 victory, sparked an immediate and fiery debate among rally fans.
And the majority feel that Gryazin’s penalty was a touch ridiculous and not – as one person said to me personally – in-line with “the art of rallying”. But let’s clear one thing up straightaway: anybody who feels Rossel and his PH Sport team were in the wrong here is massively misdirecting their anger.
How Rossel was alerted to Gryazin’s breach of Article 19.2 of the WRC’s sporting regulations is information I don’t have, but when he has clear evidence – and it was clear, the stewards deemed it as such – of the offense, and protesting the result would earn him an extra seven championship points and of course a Monte win, why wouldn’t he do so?
Rossel isn’t spending hundreds of thousands of euros just for fun, he wants to win a championship and he isn’t the one that committed any wrongdoing – he just alerted the teacher. Naturally that will make him unpopular – in school this would make him a ‘grass’ – but the stakes are high and he’d kick himself if it came to Japan and he was within seven points of the title.
And Gryazin’s Toksport team have done exactly the same as Rossel and PH Sport did on last year’s Ypres Rally Belgium when it successfully won a protest against Stéphane Lefebvre for cutting the same corner on both passes of the Wijtschate stage – the only difference was the 15s of penalties Lefebvre accumulated didn’t cost him victory. But the intent was exactly the same.
So if there’s any gripe to be had, it should be with the rulemakers. But should there be any gripe to have at all?
Let’s first examine Article 19.2 which Gryazin was in breach of. Called ‘Road Book/Itinerary’ it states: “All crews will receive a road book containing a detailed description of the compulsory itinerary which must be followed.
“The compulsory itinerary of the rally is defined in the road book by the road direction diagrams and, between the road direction diagrams, by the defined roadway with a strong recommendation for distances to be measured using the same tripmeter used by the supplier of the timing and tracking service.
“Any areas of the route that shall be covered with full electric mode (HEV Zone) will also be defined in the road book.
“Furthermore, on the special stages the organizers may erect barriers or any other hindrances where they believe competitors have deviated from the roadway during reconnaissance or the first running of the stages.
“Any deviation will be reported to the stewards.”
To unpack that, essentially if a driver leaves the defined road of a special stage with all four wheels of their vehicle, they will be in breach of the regulations.
Even if I don’t necessarily share the viewpoint, I can understand why this latest instance has irked plenty of people. The romantic view of rallying is that taking a minor cut like Gryazin did is clever – that rally driving is about exploiting any advantage you can find. So why stymie that?
The key reason is safety. Standing close to the inside of a corner is a no-no when spectating a rally, but equally spectators stand in a spot where they don’t expect a car to appear. And sometimes a car has got a rather bit too close to them.
The 2014 WRC season carried two such examples. The first was in Poland when Volkswagen driver Andreas Mikkelsen took a massive cut on a sweeping left-hander, driving close to the taped-back line of spectators and across the grass to maintain maximum speed.
At that time, corner cutting was permitted but this was adjudged to be excessive and Mikkelsen pocketed a €5000 fine, plus the threat of exclusion if he repeated a similar action again at any point later in the season.
A few months later, it was Citroën’s Kris Meeke who was in trouble. Taking a deep cut on the final corner of a stage on Rally Australia, Meeke was given a 1min1sec penalty after going “against the spirit of the rules” and coming close to a pair of photographers who were standing behind a tree on the outside of the next right.
It’s with this in mind, and the continued advances in technology and availability of onboards where it’s far easier to capture everything and therefore police it, that has led to the introduction of this regulation in recent years.
Gryazin’s case wasn’t dangerous and it’s unlikely to have gained him too much time given it was a minor cut, and there was no anti-cut device there to prevent him from taking that line either.
But drivers know they cannot fully leave the road on any stage – or at least they should as there’s been plenty of examples of it, and penalties given for breaches, in the past. Not least on the Monte two years earlier where a bucket-load of crews (ironically including Rossel and not Gryazin) were penalized five seconds for cutting an S-bend sequence on SS4.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a monumental cut or just a few centimeters off the road, if you’re guilty you’re guilty.
Maybe it is an indication of the direction the world has gone, maybe it does seem a bit daft to be penalizing drivers for being inventive, but if the regulation didn’t exist where do you draw the line?
For organizers it’s a risk vs reward scenario. The risk of an injury or even a fatality far outweighs the benefit of one driver being applauded for taking a better line through a corner.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for Gryazin and his co-driver Konstantin Aleksandrov given how well they performed all weekend, but they have the same access to the WRC sporting regulations as anybody else. It’s fairly clear that their decision would come with consequences.
And yes, there are suspicions that other drivers committed the same offense and weren’t called up for it which could rightfully be argued as unfair, but ultimately Gryazin can’t have too many complaints as he himself was still culpable.
When it boils down to it, he was the one who was in breach of the rules that are currently in place. Not Rossel, and not the Monte Carlo Rally stewards.