At its September meeting this week, the Motor Sports Council confirmed that from next year all stage rally cars must be equipped with seats that have a current in-date FIA homologation.
The requirement for FIA homologated seats to be fitted in stage rally cars was first communicated to the sport in October 2007, after a fundamental overhaul of the regulations governing stage rally vehicles – colloquially referred to at the time by its then regulation number: K37. When the regulation was brought into the Blue Book the following year, competitors were given four years until 1st January 2012 to comply with the new requirements. During 2011, the MSA introduced Regulation (R)126.96.36.199 which allowed dispensation for all cars during first 2012 and then 2013, in order to permit time to complete further investigative work on the subject.
This week’s decision follows detailed consideration by the Council of this specific research project that had been undertaken on behalf of the Motor Sports Association to assess the issue of lifing. The full report can be found here.
The decision will bring the MSA in line with FIA regulations and the vast majority of National Sporting Authorities (ASNs) around the world who have adopted the requirement in their domestic rally championships.
From 1st January 2014, all stage rally cars will therefore have to comply with Regulation (R)48.10.6 which states: “[Cars must] Be fitted with front seats that are currently FIA homologated complying with K2.2, with appropriate seat mountings and Section K Appendix 2 Drawing number 32.”
MSA Chief Executive Nick Bunting:
“This has been a matter of concern for a number of years; competitors have been understandably reluctant to discard what they considered to be ‘perfectly good seats’, so we delayed the introduction of this regulation for the past two years in order to allow us to complete further investigations.
“The MSA’s technical team has undertaken extensive research to assess the likely structural integrity of a stage rally seat after five years and the findings are conclusive. When faced with such overwhelming evidence that supports the position advocated by the world governing body, the Motor Sports Council felt that the correct course of action is now to implement the regulation as originally agreed back in 2009.
“There is no doubt that lifing is an imperfect approach, but having considered all the options to monitor usage rather than time, we have not found a solution that offers a compelling reason to go in a different direction to the rest of the world.
“Now that we have the full information to hand, it would be indefensible for us not to act and pass that knowledge on to the competitor. We recognise that this may cause significant expense to those rally competitors who must now change their seats, but the governing body’s role is to make tough decisions for the right reasons, even if they might not be popular.”
Why has the MSA made this decision?
The Motor Sports Council – the sporting commission made up of the representatives of the sport – has made this decision, based on consideration of all the evidence available. The MSA – as the Executive function – is now implementing the relevant regulations.
Is the MSA concerned that people will stop competing rather than change their seats?
We have to recognise that some people may decide not to continue rather than spend the money on new seats, but we also have to be clear that our responsibility is to make all competitors aware of the information that we have to keep them as safe as possible in their sport.
How much is a new seat?
As ever, it is possible to spend a great deal of money on motor sport equipment, but there are FIA homologated seats widely available at under £200 each. Given the money spent throughout the sport on items that offer performance improvements, the cost of this significantly improved safety protection seems to be more than reasonable.
Can the MSA not extend the life of the homologation?
No, this is not within the MSA’s gift. There is provision within the homologation regulations for seats to be presented to the original manufacturer for inspection. If the manufacturer is satisfied with the integrity of the seat, they may extend its life by a further two years from the date of expiry of the original five years. This test costs in the region of £75-100.
What are the alternatives to lifing?
It is true that lifing is not a precise tool – it looks at the balance of probability over the course of time. Both the MSA and the FIA have looked closely at duty cycles and usage, but it is simply not possible to measure them with any degree of certainty. A log book / bar-coding system would only record use in official motor sport events, so testing and other usage would not register.
Have there been fatal incidents that would have been averted by this regulation?
In UK rallying, there has been at least one incident with life-changing injuries that we know was a direct result of a seat failure, but there have also been many serious injuries caused by a failure in the seat/mounting/harness system. It is important to recognise that the seat itself is just one component in the personal protection system – a system that is only as strong as its weakest link. We have already mandated FIA homologated harnesses throughout the sport and having now undertaken the research into seats, we must ensure that the knowledge is used to increase further the safety of our competitors.
The FIA regulations are aimed at WRC cars. Is that really appropriate for clubman rallying?
An accident in stage rallying tends not to differentiate between the permit level of the event or the calibre of the driver. Furthermore, the life of a clubman competitor is no less valuable than that of an international driver.
Why can’t the MSA bring this in more gradually?
These regulations were first publicised in 2007, with implementation scheduled for the beginning of 2012. Since then we have extended the period by a further two years, so by any measure we have provided a great deal of time for competitors to prepare for this change.
How many cars are likely to be affected by this?
Every rally car that has been log-booked since 2009 already complies with this regulation and anyone that competes on an International rally will already have been using FIA homologated seats. A number of domestic championships have already mandated the use of homologated seats in their regulations and many competitors have already taken the decision for themselves, in order to maximise the safety of their vehicle. We are now giving everyone else as much notice as possible that their seats must be FIA homologated before the first event of their 2014 season.
Isn’t personal safety a matter for the individual?
This is an interesting point and one that to a certain extent holds true; certainly the MSA always stresses that the ultimate responsibility for safety lies with the individual. Nonetheless one of the functions of the governing body is to create regulations that minimise the risk inherent in motor sport to an acceptable level.
Release MSA13-042: 12 September 2013
For media information only. No regulatory value.