Fatality Casts Spotlight on Safety

World Championship rallying is a sport of evident danger, with cars racing through forests and along icy mountain roads edged by precipices

Fatality Casts Spotlight on Safety

While the death of Peugeot co-driver Michael Park in Sunday's Rally of Britain will shine a more intense spotlight on safety, organisers can point out just how rare such tragic accidents have become.

"We set out 10 years ago to improve safety for competitors and spectators. We've not seen a driver killed for 20 years almost," rally supremo and former champion co-driver David Richards told Monday's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"We're trying to make it safer all the time but motorsport is dangerous."

New Zealander Rodger Freeth, whose Subaru rolled in the 1993 Rally of Australia, was the last co-driver to die in a World Championship event.

Before that, Finland's Henri Toivonen was killed with U.S. co-driver Sergio Cresto when their Lancia plunged into a ravine and caught fire at the 1986 Corsica Rally.

Italian Attilio Bettega was killed in the same event the year before.

The powerful 'Group B' cars were banned after Toivonen's accident and important safety measures introduced, including the use of HANS head and neck restraints this season.

Drivers and co-drivers have had massive impacts and emerged relatively unscathed in recent years.

Norwegian Petter Solberg and British co-driver Phil Mills hit a concrete block, designed to resist tanks, at around 160kph in Germany last year. The Subaru flipped and smashed into another block but both walked away from the wreckage.

Side Impact

Although details of the accident that killed Park remain sketchy, it is known that the car driven by Estonian Markko Martin went off the road at speed and hit a tree on the passenger side.

Peugeot boss Jean-Pierre Nicolas said Park died instantly.

Despite all the safety advances, that is the kind of crash - a lateral collision with an immovable object - that all drivers dread.

The side is the weakest part of the car and even a roll cage using metres of steel struts and cross members can offer little real protection.

"Short of building a Chieftain tank, there is no real solution to this problem," said Briton Nicky Grist, a championship-winning co-driver with Colin McRae.

"The side is the most vulnerable part of any car, whether it's a road car or a rally car," he told the Guardian newspaper. "When you are sliding towards a tree at that speed, there's little you can do."

Grist, who has had several lucky escapes with McRae over the years including one in Corsica in 2000 when their Ford landed upside down in a ravine, felt it was not really a question of co-driver safety.

"It could just as easily have happened to the driver, had it been a right rather than a left-hand bend," he said. "It's just a horrible twist of fate.

"You could have that accident 200 times, but if you hit it in the wrong place on the 201st time, then you will get hurt."

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