Leading World Rally Championship figures have slammed inaction over their concerns about on-stage visibility after Friday’s second Rally Turkey test, with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville saying he is “tired” of safety discussions that go nowhere and mean drivers ‘risk our lives’.
Neuville set a storming time on the opening stage to lead team-mate Sébastien Loeb by 3.3 seconds, but he and Ott Tänak – who was third after SS1 – then lost over five seconds to SS2 winner Sébastien Ogier as looming dust clouds caused a major stir.
Neuville, who is now second and trails rally leader Loeb by 1.2s, was infuriated that what he believes is a repetitive problem that “nobody wants to listen” to has cropped up again.
Asked to appraise stage conditions, Neuville told DirtFish: “It’s always the same. You never have the same conditions and equal conditions to anybody.
“We know there’s this issue of road cleaning, but that has been part of this championship since long [ago].
“Now we’re talking about safety as well for the drivers, and we are making extremely expensive cars to improve the safety for the drivers as well, but we agree to send the drivers at very high speed into stages where we know there’s a problem with dust.
“We only need to look back last year and the years before, I probably lost part of my championship [title] here last year as well, with the same issue.
“I don’t get it, to be honest, and in French we say there are only stupid people who don’t change their mind, and obviously there are some people who don’t want to change their mind.”
When it was put to him on the WRC’s All Live service that the situation was not completely negative, as he remains second, Neuville replied: “Yeah but we could be 1-2-3 tonight.
“Our car was working fine, the Hyundai has shown a great speed on the first stage as well and obviously this situation with the dust it’s never the same for anybody and the dust is moving so fast, so it makes it very difficult to get equal conditions.
“We have seen in some splits you lose five, six seconds because the visibility is bad, in others you catch some time back. But I’m just tired of all this discussion all the time.
“We are going in the stages to risk our life because some people don’t want to change their mind.”
Tänak agreed with his team-mate Neuville that the plumes of dust raised safety concerns, and said he simply wasn’t prepared to take big risks at this early stage of the rally.
“It was challenging,” said Tänak, who dropped to seventh in the rally classification as a result of the time he lost in the dust.
“The stages were actually not [in] so bad shape, they were quite good, just [the] second stage we had quite bad dust and obviously I was not really ready to take any risk in that moment in the event so it’s pretty disappointing.
“I quite clearly remember from last year that it was quite [a] clear decision not to take any risk with that so yeah, I guess something bad needs to happen before they change their minds, so it’s a shame.”
He added: “Also, it tastes, or it smells a bit s***, as last year when I was opening the road it was only four minutes and now it’s a French guy opening it’s three minutes.
“That’s how it is, anyway it’s a very long event, we know it will be very demanding.”
DirtFish reported earlier on Friday that officials would monitor dust levels at the start of the rally, and could increase the gaps between cars to four minutes as early as the second stage.
But this did not happen and, at present, it is not clear whether gaps will be increased for Saturday morning.
Speaking directly after SS2, a spokesman from the organizer told DirtFish: “At the moment the plan is to run three-minute gaps tomorrow.
“This could change, but the CRO [competitor relations officer] didn’t hear from any crews.”
M-Sport team principal Richard Millener said his team sided with other requests for the gaps to be increased to four minutes “as long as we didn’t impact on the WRC2/3 crews and make them run in the dark”.
“The FIA just needed to actually realise and listen to what was going to happen,” he added. “It was hardly rocket science.”
One senior team member told DirtFish that “it’s always the same here” and that they had requested a four-minute gap, but “for the third year in a row the clerk of the course knew better than us”.
Asked if he would be pushing organizers for four-minute gaps, Ogier – who started first on the road on Friday – said: “I think everybody will push for it.
“Except the first on the road maybe, but like I say I was first on the road today, if someone would have asked me ‘are you against four minutes?’, I would have not said no. Because I don’t want anybody to risk driving in conditions where you don’t see.”