Close Call: The Perils of Rally Spectators

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We all know racing is risky. It shouldn’t be risky for the fans, but in some cases, as in rally racing, it can be. Spectators like to be as close to the action as possible, and when your course is a closed mountain road, there are very few ways to provide adequate barriers and runoff zones. So spectators have to take that into account and place themselves appropriately. You may remember the sights from the good old days of Group B; spectators only moved out of the way of the mighty Audi Quattros and Lancia 037s when they could read the numbers stamped into the engine blocks above them as the fire-spitting monsters landed on the backsides of blind crests.
Those days may be gone, but the fans are still in a dangerous place. As seen in this video, an out of control Renault Clio hits an embankment, tumbles and nearly collects half a dozen spectators who thought they were safe on a stone wall. This could have been much worse than it was. Of course, it all started with understeer. Remember kids: understeer is when you hit the wall with the front of the car, oversteer is when you hit the wall with the back of the car. Horsepower is how fast you hit the wall, and torque is how far you take the wall with you.
Today’s race cars are phenomenally safe for the occupants. For spectators nearby, they are still thousands of pounds of steel, composites, glass and rubber traveling at tremendous speeds. That is why Formula One, Indy, NASCAR and WEC go to such lengths to keep the dangers of the twisty bits inside the fence. We have seen 200 mph open wheel racers and stock cars caught in midair by high tech fences, and it’s time to properly recognize the vital work that goes into keeping everyone in the sport safe, including spectators. Rally racing will have to do with just shrubbery. These rally fans were lucky they didn’t become new graphics on the roof of a French hatchback.