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WRC Rally Japan

FIA explains bizarre WRC Rally Japan stage stoppage

The FIA has offered an explanation as to why World Rally Championship crews came across a safety car in stage nine of Rally Japan which prompted officials to red flag the test.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was the first to come across the stranded zero car which was pulled over to one side of the road midway through the 20.32km Nukata Forest test.

Unaware of the stationary vehicle ahead, Neuville, who rejoined the rally after crashing out of second on stage six yesterday, briefly stopped before passing the car. He soon switched into road mode for the remainder of the stage.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta also navigated by the Rally Japan official car before organisers threw the red flags.

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak and Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi had already begun the stage when the red flags were shown. The stage restarted after a delay.

Neuville, Katsuta, Lappi and Tanak were awarded notional times after being affected by the incident.

The FIA opened an initial investigation that has deemed the incident was initially triggered by spectators standing in a dangerous location. A further investigation has been opened.

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Tomasz Kaliński

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

“On SS9 of FORUM8 Rally Japan on Saturday morning, the event zero car came across spectators stood in a dangerous location on the stage and stopped to ask them to move,” read a statement from the FIA issued to media.

“Rally control was informed that the zero car had moved to a safe location and the stage was authorised to commence competition.

“When the crew of car no. 11 (Neuville) was 8.6km into the stage, they approached the zero car which was still on the stage.

“Standard safety protocols were then activated and the stage was immediately red flagged for those cars already on stage.

“After a delay of 22 minutes and following a review of safety measures, the stage was restarted.

“A further investigation of this issue has been opened. The organisers and the FIA are working to check that established safety protocols are respected and will continue to monitor each stage.”

It remains unclear why the zero car was located on the edge of the road when Neuville approached.

"I think there was some communication issue because also the red flag system was not working", Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul told Motorsport.com. 

"I think in general the communication was simply not working. For sure, something like this should be improved in the future.

"If we want the world of rally to be a representation of what the automotive industry is we all know that connectivity and communication is key. We need to get that sorted."

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans leads the rally from team-mates Sebastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanpera.  

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