M-Sport and Toyota’s team principals, Richard Millener and Jari-Matti Latvala, both believe changes should be made to the number, and type, of fire extinguishers fitted to World Rally Championship cars in the wake of Dani Sordo’s fire on Rally Japan.
Sordo had begun to smell fuel aboard his Hyundai on the way to Thursday evening’s opening stage in Japan, but the situation escalated on Friday morning when the battery on his Hyundai caught fire.
Once he realized a fire was starting, Sordo promptly stopped his i20 N Rally1 and jumped out to assess the fire at the rear of the car – believing he could put it out.
But it soon became clear that the fire had fully taken hold, and Sordo and co-driver Cándido Carrera simply had to watch as their car burnt to the ground.
Gus Greensmith and Jonas Andersson were first on the scene and attempted to help the Spaniards put out their fire, but to no avail.
“I was literally at full speed, came around the corner and then there was the car on fire,” Greensmith told DirtFish.
“So thankfully I saw Dani and Cándido out of the car straight away, which is what we wanted to see, and then it was a case of trying to help them put the fire out, but we couldn’t.
“We tried to help him as much as we could, gave him the extinguisher. But I mean, as soon as we ran out of extinguishers, how quickly it took… it took over the back of the car because it’s carbon fiber not steel, so it basically just lit the whole thing up incredibly quickly.
“So at least it wasn’t a crash and no-one [was] stuck in the car because I’ve not seen a fire take a car that quickly.
“There was a 200-liter tanker there before we left and that was doing nothing either, so yeah, tricky.”
Hyundai will likely never know the true cause of the fire, but that doesn’t mean the WRC can’t learn from what happened.
“There’s probably some things we can improve on, and I had a few people contacting me straight away afterwards about some other fire extinguisher devices you can get because I think the problem was the carbon fiber’s caught fire and if Dani could have got that under control we might be in a very different situation,” Millener told DirtFish.
“So there’s some things called fire sticks that I’ve seen people use before. We’ve just looked at it on the television, you get some that burn for 55s or 100s and an extinguisher bottle like we have is there to suppress a fire, not put it out.
“Suppress means put it out enough so you can get away from danger, but we need to put it out. I think as part of the follow-up to this we need to look at those.
“They’re not very heavy. I think my suggestion within the team is to have a debrief on that afterwards and maybe with us, because if you can put a fire out, regardless of budgets, they’ve just lost a whole load of budget in one car and it’s not what anyone wants to see in the championship.
“I think we just need to be proactive and try from here to tighten up and learn from this example and in future we’re even more robust and prepared. Let’s take advantage of a bad situation to learn and make sure the sport gets better going forward.”
Latvala agreed: “I have said this already some years ago. In my view, what I would do is I would assemble two hand-held fire extinguishers in the car – one on the co-driver’s side and one on the driver’s side,” he said.
“So then in this kind of situation you would have two, and then the next car you would have had another two, so then you would have four. OK, I don’t know if we’d manage to put the fire down but at least you do quite a lot more with four compared to two.
“From the experience I have got with the fires, two is always better because there’s two people who can try to stop the fire.”