There are probably a number of you who were also shocked (to say the least) by the news that the MSA National Court rejected the Appeal of both top rally drivers, Conrad Rautenbach and Johnny Gemmell and that they have been disqualified from the result of the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally – and after that, the result of the rally is still in the balance as a “second leg” of the appeal still has to be heard?
Much have been said and argued during the appeal and I will rather not go into all of it, but I am, for what it is worth, of the opinion that things could and probably should have been different?
My opinion is mainly based on the word “reconnaissance” as “defined” in SSR 193 14.1. This reads as: (driving a stage) ‘using standard production vehicles respecting the Road Traffic laws’.
That is the only “other” method of reconnaissance recognised in my book other than driving the stage in a rally car?
During the hearing a fairly good look was taken at the definition of the word “reconnaissance” in dictionaries – but not much attention was given to the appropriate meaning of the word for rallying purposes. It was found (see clause 57. of the finding) that “There is no uncertainty as to the definition or meaning of the word “reconnaissance” where it appears in the SSR’s.”
My humble opinion is that “reconnaissance” in rallying means at least driving over or even practicing “secret” stages in a vehicle to gain an advantage.
The rule can surely not mean anything else but that you will not be allowed to use a rally prepared car (or even a standard production car) to drive over the stages to gain an unfair advantage without permission, while permission may only be given for the use of standard production cars, as defined.
Walking a stage in my honest opinion will in a thousand years not give you any other information, but where to drive?
If that is not a fact, then I suppose flying over a stage for instance on your way to a rally will fall in the ambit of this very open interpretation given to it by the court?
While the rest of the world’s rally drivers recce stages or have notes for almost every metre of possible road they use over and over on rallies – we fart around “walking a stage” of less than a kilometre or 0.8% of the event, to be excluded?
It is like giving a cricket player a ping-pong bat and a tenpin-bowling-ball and say “go out, practice, gain an advantage and be thankful?”
It is also sad that the point that this stage was held in an open public area where anyone could drive at any time before the stage was actually closed to the public - was not brought up either? If in future a stage is held in the main street of a town - no competitor will be able to drive into town like a normal motorist - we will have to slip through on side roads wearing sunglasses and wigs? Splitting hair? So did everyone!
I gave evidence that in my opinion (which seemingly did not carry much weight) the stage was not a proper stage.
As Route Note director I could not, based on the information in the Road Book find the correct route with certainty to make proper safety notes. The fact that there were cars parked “in the stage” until shortly before the start of it prevented me from even making “emergency notes”!
To crown this, the marshal was not in place on time and the start of the stage was not officially indicated when the two walk-a-teers Gemmell and Rautenbach went by. I would not have been surprised if the competitors drove into the stage or for that matter right through the stage by accident!
I have since the incident often wondered if anyone else noted that in the extreme excitement surrounding the stage when other competitors realised that Gemmell and Rautenbach were “trespassing” on the stage – about ten of them also walked on the forbidden area at the start of the stage?
So let’s be consistent and apply the rule fairly and disqualify a few more?
It was, as the defence for Rautenbach kindly pointed out, strange that for one question the rules were painstakingly interpreted, while some leniency was applied to get another to work properly or logically?
Is it not fair to say that if “all forms of reconnaissance are forbidden” – all those who had a look at exactly where the leading cars drove over the stage had to be disqualified as they did better than get a walk over – they actually enjoyed a live show?
Such an interpretation and subsequent disqualification of all who dared look, should put and end to the joy of all those who jumped up and down when they “thought” that at least two very able competitors were eliminated by what must under the circumstances be seen, as the most ridiculous rule ever if not interpreted in the context of rallying?
If we have to interpret the rule to the letter – let us then also not jump to the conclusion that the rule does not imply what it states?
It says clearly that reconnaissance in all forms are forbidden “for three months before the start of the rally”.
This can surely not mean “after the start of the rally as well? And if so, does “under pain of exclusion” go past the start of the rally – or did the rule maker at least have the commonsense to realise that you cannot prevent “all forms of reconnaissance” AFTER the start of an event? I am convinced that the rule was written as it stands, because it cannot be applied AFTER the start of the event as prevention of all forms of reconnaissance is impossible?
It pains me to see two top drivers being subjected to this harsh finding with respect to those who made it – but one should “unfortunately” take the issue further and ask if all aspects were sufficiently addressed by the appellants and argued before the court for their decision?
Fact is, again in my view, limited evidence and argument were placed before the court even after the court kindly allowed ample space for evidence to be brought forward, not much argument was given against the (incorrect?) interpretation of the rules.
The fact that the event MSA Stewart who incidentally is also a “legal eagle” interpreted the rule differently (correctly?), was not even addressed?
Screwing around with jurisdictions and other technicalities did not do any good – at least not that I know off?
On the other hand I expected the court to have looked past what was offered simply because the court took it on itself to interpret the rules in a wider context than the arguments presented and I therefore humbly submit that in that light they may have fallen short and erred?
It would have been a different story if the court did not endeavour to give its own meaning to the word “reconnaissance” and then respectfully incorrectly applied it by not taking all the facts affecting the “walking” issue into consideration?
Where does this leave us?
If walking a stage – right or wrong – because of a shambles regarding the instructions, bulletins or the lack of them for one stage determines the outcome of a championship – then I believe we are in trouble?
Note: I held this article back because I was under the impression that the "2nd leg of the Appeal" was going to happen on the 18th Oct 2011. It did not - so we may be without a champion at the end of this season?