Over my rallying career I’ve been fortunate to have crewed the 0 car a number of times over the years, including abroad (where we crashed – the cardinal sin for any safety crew!). In 2018 I was asked to join the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB Safety Car Team where I navigated the Zero (0) car on the national section of the event, I have been asked to remain with the team in 2019..
This post is discussing the role of the safety crews and the Motorsport UK requirements for them under Rally Future, which is the campaign the governing body created after a number of tragedies in our sport over recent years.
The full Rally Future requirements are much more far ranging than just the Safety Cars traversing the stages before and after the competitors, but that is too much of a broad subject for me to cover here. It’s not an understatement to say that many of the requirements brought in have not been universally met with delight from some rally organisers and spectators, as they have brought in further levels of complexity for volunteer organisers and restricted places where spectators can watch. However they have been designed to preserve our sport into the future and keep us all safe, competitors/organisers/spectators and not to take the enjoyment and spectacle away.
You can read the full specifications here: https://www.motorsportuk.org/The-Sport/Rally-Future
As I said, this post is to discuss Safety Cars on multi venue (MV) rallies and to dispel the misconception that they are crewed by mates of the organisers out for a jolly. They will be people that the main organisers/Clerk of the Course can trust to do the job and not throw it off (I’ll explain my crash story towards the end) and will have undertaken marshals training and one member will have undertaken the safety car training provided by Motorsport UK, it’s a commitment beyond hooning around the stages!
Motorsport UK have stated that the minimum safety car requirements on an MV event are a Spectator Car, Safety Delegate, 0 car and a Sweeper. So thats a minimum of three cars before the competitors and one after. They have also suggested events can run further cars if organisers feel necessary, and if it’s a closed road event there will be a Road Closing Car and a Road Opener.
I’m going to go through each of the cars and try and explain their duties in plain english and the order in which you should see them if you’re stood, safely, at the side of the stage.
The below is one of (blurred) diagrams taken from the Rally Safety Car Guidelines, apologies if not too clear.
The Spectator Safety car is the first car of the safety car convoy, any previous cars will be Set Up/Equipment Crews, maybe the Club Stewards (not Motorsport UK Steward who will be in HQ), Time Keeper, Chief Marshal and Marshals, Rescue and Recovery crews moving into position.
Spectator Safety will being doing what it says on the label. They should have a stickers on the car saying Spec Safety, Spectator Safety or SSC, whatever the event call it you should know thats the job it has from looking at the car.
They, like all other safety cars, but the 0 car, should have flashing lights and a tannoy and will be travelling the whole of the rally route and should be using the road book and time cards.
Their job is to check that spectators AND marshals are in a safe location, ask any that they believe to not be in a safe location to move, and will generally not move through the stage until the issue has been resolved.
They also carry spare stage equipment so that if a junction needs repairing or bolstering they can do this.
000 and 00
Events may choose to run a 000 and a 00, but will at least run a 00.
They will follow the full rally route also, and like all Safety Cars will have their time cards completed at the time controls to help the Marshals get used to time cards and check sheets prior to the 0 and competitors arrive.
These cars will also carry stage signage and tape and they are the eyes and ears of the Clerk of the Course and will advise the Stage Commander (SC) when they arrive at the stop line that they believe the stage is or is not ready to run. If they see an issue in their drive through the stage they should advise Rally Control and take advise and if they have time to resolve it or pass to the SC or Marshals locally to fix.
Motorsport UK say that the cars should also be fitted with tannoys and lights but I have seen some events run vehicles without these extra’s, but they have always as a minimum, been clearly marked as being 000 or 00. I’m presuming the Safety Delegate may have mentioned that in his post event report….
The Safety Delegate (SD) is an Motorsport UK appointed official who has the finally say if a stage can run. He will probably run prior to the 000 or 00 or between them, so if he spots an issue with the stage one of these crews can fix the issue with the equipment carried on board. He and his driver will travel all the stages and road routes.
The SD will have their eyes everywhere on the event. Prior to the event they will have been sent the set up and safety/operation manuals and will have raised any concerns they have for the event prior to the day so that the event officials can alter their plans and set ups for the rally.
As the SD is appointed by Motorsport UK, he or she is independent from the event and shouldn’t be concerned by event/club politics and able to have the difficult conversations with event officials before and during the running of the rally and will cancel stages if they believe its not safe to run.
The 0 car is the last car to travel the route prior to the competitors.
The Motorsport UK Rally Future report says that the 0 car should be a stage prepared car, which means it doesn’t have to be if the event doesn’t have one or the one chosen has broken down.
If it is a stage prepared car it must have gone through scrutineering and the crew must be suited and booted, and wearing helmets and FHR when on stage.
The crew are not competing on the rally and will only use the road book to navigate the stages and not use route notes. They must be prepared to stop on stage if they believe there is an issue that they can/should resolve or they communicate with rally control that an issue needs to be resolved before the stage is run, or cancelled.
Unlike all the other cars, sirens/tannoys and flashing lights are not neccessary.
The Sweper Car (SC) is the last car in the convoy, literally. This car will follow the last competitor into stage. This will be identified by a Chequered Flag on it’s side and maybe the words Sweeper.
Before entering the stage they will know how many cars went into stage, how many came out and where those that stopped in stage are located.
They will collect all check sheets from Arrival, Start and Stop lines and any reports from Marshals mid stage. They will also stop with competitors who have retired and are OTL or about to go OTL and collect their damage declaration.
They are not there to recover crews, they will be picked up by the recovery crew when they follow through. The sweeper has a time schedule to follow so stopping in stage should be minimised, if the stage is not being used again the Marshals will want to go home and they can’t leave their post until the Sweeper has got to the end of the stage and all competitors are accounted for.
As mentioned earlier other cars may travel the stages but none of them are classified as Safety Cars. The Club Stewards may chose to drive the stages, the Time Keeper, Chief Marshal maybe a Deputy or Assistant Clerk of the Course.
You won’t see the Motorsport UK Steward or Clerk of the Course out and about on MV Stages. They are confined to Rally HQ.
It may seem to be a lot of cars, but they all have a job to do and they should all be prepared to fix issues they see.
Now for something different….
At the start of this article I mentioned crashing in the 0 car in abroad and maybe this is an example of how it shouldn’t be done.
I’d travelled to this foreign land for their big rally of the year and it had been arranged for me to sit in the 0 car with a local driver. Now here for the interesting bit…
The choice of 0 car was not a stage prepared car, it was a Suzuki Ignis taken off a local car dealers forecourt, it was automatic(!!!) and my driver and I were wearing shorts, T-shirts, and helmets.
We’d had a good morning loop of stages and were having fun in the little “Suzy Ignorant” as we had christened her. We had been met enthusiastically welcomed at every stage start, junction and finish and we even met a bus coming towards us on one stage!
Now with the mists of time I can’t remember which stage it was but I remember the accident vividly. It was a stretch of bumpy, shiny tarmac and a fast right hand corner. The car started to hop and skip and the back just got away from my driver and we speared left into a bridge parapet with a 12 foot or more drop on the other side. The air bags went off and the air was filled with dust – the stage couldn’t be started as we’d blocked it!
Before the event the Clerk of the Course had given us clear instructions to not crash but I had to make the call that no course car wants to make – back to HQ and rather than face the wrath of the clerk we retired to the bar……
Things have changed and this is most definitely NOT how Safety and Course Cars operate but a fond rallying memory from years gone by.
I never found out what the dealer said about their car.