FIA World Rally Championship - Service Restrictions
Following the retirement of Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot (Ford Escort) while leading the 1995 Tour de Corse Rally, there has been considerable discussion in the media about the service limitations applied to events in the FIA World Rally Championship. The FIA would like to clarify any misunderstanding by answering the following questions.
Q Why do events in the FIA World Rally Championship need any service restrictions at all?
A Philosophically, there is no reason why service should not be allowed anywhere and everywhere, perhaps with mechanics following the cars in helicopters and service available even in the middle of special stages. However, rallying has always accepted the principle that service should be limited to a greater or lesser degree. Some rallies used to forbid service completely, while almost every event has traditionally forbidden service at re-groups and overnight halts, with cars locked into parce ferme. It has also been common practice to forbid service at places where it was impractical to permit it, for example between two stages separated by a very short liaison section. Drivers have often retired due to ill fortune at such locations, and that will doubtless continue to happen; it is as much part of motor sport as the race leader whose car stops on the final lap.
Q How can the FIA justify it happening - as with Bruno Thiry in Corsica - at a location where mechanics were available to work on the car?
A Everyone feels tremendous sympathy for Thiry, of course, but his retirement from the Tour de Corse was just bad luck. It was not a result of bad planning by the organisers or bad government by the FIA. The mechanics were not there to service Thiry's car. This was a part of the route where service was forbidden, so the mechanics were there only to refuel the car. If the location had not been a refuelling point, there would have been nobody there to help him and he would have retired from the rally anyway. The difference would have been that everyone would simply have said how unlucky he was and there would have been no controversy.
Q So why not allow full service at refuelling points?
A Consider how refuelling points came about. Some time ago, it was decided that manufacturers wishing to score points in the FIA World Rally Championship should make a commitment to participate in all eight rounds. In agreeing to this, the manufacturers asked the FIA to make the rallies more affordable. Obviously, the FIA cannot determine how much a manufacturer pays its drivers, or spends on the development of its cars, or even how much it spends at each rally. What the FIA could do was create a framework in which incredibly high expenditure at events was not absolutely necessary to achieve success. After extensive consultation with the manufacturers, it appeared that the most straightforward way to lower non-discretionary costs was to apply a limit to servicing. The FIA World Council therefore agreed to allow service only in controlled areas and to impose a minimum distance between those service areas, thus reducing the requirement for duplicated service provision both after each stage finish and before each stage start. We also introduced tyre marking, so that competitors could not make unlimited tyre changes between the service areas. Even before the first rally under the new regulations (Monte Carlo), the manufacturers told us that their cars would not have sufficient fuel to complete the minimum distance between service areas. It was too late to change the distance, because many rallies had already finalised their routes, so the FIA proposed refuelling points at which our official fuel supplier would replenish the cars, so that the manufacturers would not need to send any personnel to those places. This proposal was rejected by the manufacturers, who prefer to undertake the work using their own mechanics.
Q So why are so many other activities now permitted at refuelling points?
A Only because the FIA accepts that these points are now manned by qualified mechanics and that certain activities - such as changing wheels, removing studs and fitting auxiliary lights - are more logically carried out by those mechanics than by the rally crew. The overall principle has not changed: no work is allowed at refuelling points which would keep a car in the rally when it would have retired if there had been nobody there.
Q Does the FIA nevertheless accept that what happened in Corsica was not good for the image of international motor sport?
A That is clearly true. The solution is to steer the World Rally Championship back to the original course charted by the Rallies Commission and the FIA World Council, with unlimited service allowed in pre-determined areas and no assistance whatsoever in between. There are three steps to achieving this:
1. Ask the manufacturers to fit larger fuel tanks, so that the minimum distance between service areas can be safely achieved without the need for interim refuelling. This is already being done, with the complete agreement of the manufacturers.
2. Reduce slightly the minimum distance between service areas, so that the manufacturers are not obliged to fit fuel tanks so large as to constitute a safety risk. New distances will be presented to the next meeting of the FIA World Council, for adoption in 1996.
3. Recommend to organisers that they create routes which permit competitors to return as often as possible to the same service area, thus cutting down on the number of service vehicles required and, incidentally, on the movement of those vehicles around the event. The FIA accept that some events cannot achieve this ideal, but we will encourage those which can.
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Tuesday 30 May 1995