|Evidence was received from David Pierre (Race Director), Drew Furlong (BRSCC Competition Director), Ian Chalmers (the Starter), Kevin Shortis (Co-ordinator of the Ford Fiesta Championship), Barry Edwards (Series Sponsor and Ford Fiesta competitor), Nick Sanderson (Ford Fiesta competitor), Cheryl Lynch (MSA Race, Speed and Kart Executive), Mike Dixon (MSA Steward) and David Munro (team member of a competitor in a Championship other than Ford Fiesta).
Bernard Cotterill, Chairman of the BRSCC (the organising club on the day) was also present. Video evidence of the incident was also viewed.
The facts would appear to be that the changeable weather conditions caused the organisers considerable difficulty during the two day event and resulted in various changes being made to the timetable. The event was to run on both the Oval and infield tracks. Some of the cars which were to run on the Oval could run only in totally dry conditions. Because of this some alterations were made to the Sunday afternoon programme.
That left the organisers to run a Ford Saloon race followed by a Ford Fiesta race on the infield circuit and then, on the Oval track, a Pick-Up race (these being able to run on the Oval even in wet conditions).
There was considerable delay in clearing the circuit at the conclusion of the Ford Saloon race and further delay in the Ford Fiestas reaching the infield assembly area. The Fiestas left the assembly area and formed up on the grid behind the Safety Car. The lights on the Safety Car were turned on and when the green flag dropped the Safety Car left the grid followed by all Ford Fiesta competitors.
The Race Log shows “4.51 cars on track, 4.53 race start, 4.53 race aborted.”
Evidence heard from the two competitors present indicates that they believed they were commencing the race behind the Safety Car but that there was total confusion amongst the other competitors as to whether there was to be a standing start, a rolling start or a start behind the Safety Car.
In fact, the Safety Car, having negotiated part of the circuit, proceeded to enter the paddock followed by all competitors. It would seem that the competitors were perplexed and that there was considerable anger at what had happened. The Series Co-ordinator was unable to give them an explanation and the drivers crossed the pit lane, entered the track and congregated under the starting gantry. Conversations, which seemingly became somewhat heated, ensued between the competitors and Race Officials who came on to the gantry to speak with them. The competitors demanded an explanation as to what had occurred. The competitors were asked to leave the track but declined to do so and remained on the track for some ten to fifteen minutes. The race organisers determined that it would not be possible to run the Pick-Up race in the time remaining and accordingly announced that the race would be cancelled and that the meeting was at an end.
There was conflicting evidence at the Inquiry as to when the decision was made to terminate the Fiesta race and as to the reason for that decision.
The Race Director advised the Inquiry that a decision was made to start the race behind the Safety Car and then see whether or not the track conditions were such that it was safe to continue. The Fiesta Co-ordinator, Mr. Shortis, in the assembly area in the paddock maintains that neither he nor the Marshals in the collecting area could establish radio contact with Race Control. The drivers, as stated above, were therefore unclear as to the procedure to be adopted at the Race Start.
The meeting was due to end no later than 5.00 p.m. by virtue of the prevailing curfew. The organisers, however, negotiated an extension of the curfew in terms that provided the last race started before 5.00 p.m. the curfew would extend until the conclusion of that race. This extension was obtained at or about the time that the Fiestas were assembling in the outer paddock.
The Race Director advised the Inquiry that the decision to cancel the Fiesta race was taken as the cars were coming on to the grid and presumably it must follow that the decision was taken without waiting to hear from the Safety Car driver as to track conditions.
The Inquiry heard that weather conditions did not change significantly either in the period leading up to or immediately after the start of the Fiesta race. The two competitors present confirmed that the conditions when they left the grid were no worse than those in which they had raced on Saturday. These competitors also stated that they could see arrangements already in hand to commence the Pick-Up race.
The Race Starter advised the Inquiry that he received instructions to delay the start literally whilst the green flag was being dropped such that the Safety Car and some of the Fiestas were already moving off the grid.
Mike Dixon, the MSA Steward, advised that in a post-race debrief the reason given for cancelling the Fiesta race was that “the weather conditions were too bad to continue.” He confirmed also that the race was cancelled without any reference being made to the Stewards of the meeting. In the written Statement before the Inquiry made by Barry Ashman, the Clerk of the Course for the Fiesta Race, it is said that the Chief Clerk took the decision to abort the race “due to the small amount of time remaining.”
There is therefore conflicting evidence as to whether the Fiesta race was cancelled because of adverse track and weather conditions or due to insufficient time to run both the Fiesta race and the Pick-Up race.
The impression remains that the Fiesta race was aborted not because of track conditions but because of the wish to commence the Pick-Up race before 5.00 p.m. in order to take advantage of the extended curfew. This was categorically denied by the officials present.
Whatever the truth of this matter, there would seem to be no doubt that there was a breakdown in communication between Race Control and the officials controlling the outer paddock assembly area leading to confusion on the part of the drivers as to what was expected of them and, ultimately, to considerable anger on their part at the timing and manner in which their race was cancelled.
This in no way, however, justifies their subsequent actions in entering upon the track, congregating on the starting grid and disrupting the meeting.
The Fiesta Co-ordinator was seemingly unable to obtain information with which to assist his competitors and whilst not condoning their subsequent actions he states that he sympathises with his competitors. He declined to identify to the Inquiry the identity of the drivers and/or team members who were on the track.
No other person present was able to accurately identify any person present on the track.
It should be noted that the two competitors present maintained that they took no part in those actions.
The actions of the drivers involved in this incident is wholly unacceptable and undoubtedly brought Motor Sport into disrepute that day. There is obviously doubt as to the precise identity of each individual present on the track and it is accepted that not all drivers were involved in the incident. It is not appropriate therefore to take any immediate disciplinary action against all the drivers in the Championship.
The action of the Fiesta Co-ordinator has been the subject of criticism in that he totally failed to control his competitors and to restrain them from taking the action which was the subject of this Inquiry. The role of the Co-ordinator, however, is that of liaison between competitor and organiser and however much one might wish that the Co-ordinator could have dissuaded his drivers from the action which they took, it may not be within the sphere of his responsibility and in the time frame available to him it was probably not even possible.
The action of the officials of the meeting is to a degree unclear. There is no doubt that all the officials concerned are of considerable repute and experience and they were endeavouring in difficult weather conditions to run a race meeting on two different tracks requiring constant review of the timetable. They were fortunate in being able to obtain an extension of the curfew and whether or not the desire to start the final Pick-Up race before 5.00 p.m. was the real reason for cancelling the Fiesta race at 4.53 p.m. remains unclear. This was, however, categorically denied by the officials concerned, the reason for cancellation being, variously, weather conditions and lack of time. The suspicion that it did so, however, undoubtedly contributed to the drivers` ire.
One major reason for this incident would appear to be the difficulty in running a meeting at this particular venue involving both inner and outer paddocks where the outer paddock is some distance from the assembly area in the inner paddock. This difficulty is compounded when weather conditions change, requiring competitors to either change tyres in the outer paddock or to incur the difficulty of transporting their equipment into the inner paddock. The resultant time delays do not assist Race Officials in running their meeting to a predetermined timetable as happened here.
These difficulties are obviously exacerbated to a considerable degree when there is a failure of radio communication between Race Control and the outer paddock and also when competitors in the infield require information from Race Officials in Race Control situated some considerable distance from the infield on the far side of the track. The drivers in this instance regarded (incorrectly as it happens) the start-line gantry as the nearest point of contact with officials in Race Control.
As a result of this Inquiry, two recommendations are made :-
1. Any organiser intending to run a meeting at this venue must ensure that there is proper communication at all time between Race Control and both inner and outer paddocks and that if there is a failure of radio communication there is adequate personnel available to provide an alternative means of communication.
2. In view of the wholly unacceptable conduct of certain of the drivers in the Ford Fiesta Championship, regard be given by the MSA to their conduct during the whole of the 2008 Championship such that if there is any recurrence of unacceptable conduct by persons participating in this Championship, consideration be given to withdrawing such Championship Permit as might otherwise be issued for 2009.
27th November 2007
A. Scott Andrews