When Craig Breen planted his Ford Puma Rally1 atop a snowbank on the second stage of Rally Sweden, more than a few eyebrows were raised when a red flag was deployed.
Breen had gone off on a fast left-hander, clipping a snowbank on the outside in poor visibility that sucked him into the snow further down the road and left him stranded.
But cars being parked up on snowbanks, off the road itself, is a reasonably common sight on Rally Sweden. As long as it’s out of the way and not on the line, stages tend to keep running.
When Takamoto Katsuta arrived at the finish line, his run through the stage halted by a red flag, his first question was whether Breen was OK. Usually, a red flag for a crashed car is a serious incident.
Luckily Katsuta’s worries were unfounded. Thanks to the wonders of onboard cameras available via the WRC’s live feed, it was clear that both Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle were OK after their off.
So why the red flag?
The wrong button was pressed. That’s all it takes.
Nagle, without realizing it himself, had hit the SOS button inside the stranded Puma. He thought he was punching in the right combination of buttons to tell rally officials back at base that the car wasn’t blocking the road.
But he’d touched a very expensive button instead.
“Having considered that Mr Craig Breen is a FIA priority 1 driver, driver Craig Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle shall be jointly and severally liable to pay a fine of €2000 [$2254.80],” was the decision from Rally Sweden stewards.
“Mr Nagle stated that once stopped, he had first pushed the OK button and then the ´ROAD BLOCKED > NO´ button before leaving the car.
“He was adamant he had never pushed the SOS button. Mr Nagle admitted that a human error in this case was possible.
“The stewards then viewed video evidence from the onboard camera of car 42 and studied the data from the FIA safety tracking device, as well as from its back-up system. All data confirmed the statements in the clerk of the course report.”
It was an honest mistake – and, in an unusual way, yet more proof that the WRC’s emergency systems are working well. A red flag was deployed rapidly and the stage neutralized swiftly.