Close Call: The Perils of Rally Spectators

Travis Wolcott (SalfaRomeaab). Video courtesy of MF Video.

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.


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Travis Wolcott (SalfaRomeaab)

I grew up in Stuart, FL and began racing when I was just 14 in go karts and began competing in endurance karting events. From there I trained in Formula cars with Skip Barber Racing Schools and won my first race in a Formula Dodge from pole. I graduated from Jensen Beach High School and moved to Colorado to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder. My first full season in a sports car came in 2010 with GO 4 IT Racing Schools when I claimed a National Championship in SCCA Club Racing in the Rocky Mountain Division in Showroom Stock B, setting 3 lap records, one of which still stands today at Miller Motorsports Park. In 2011, I raced two Spec M3 races, winning both of those from pole position. This year marked my introduction into professional racing in a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI in the Pirelli World Challenge with Emich Volkswagen and 3ZERO3 Motorsports. I claimed two podium finishes from my first two professional events at two unfamiliar tracks working with renowned racers, Robb Holland and Gary Sheehan. In December 2012 I won my class at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. My ultimate, personal racing goal is to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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