When a rally driver answers a question you didn’t even ask, you generally stand back to take note. When it happens twice within a few weeks, you realise this is something you can’t let slide.
The culprits in question? Frank Kelly and Mac Kierans.
Sometimes you need to be outside your comfort zone to truly appreciate the value of something. When Kelly sampled New Zealand’s perfect gravel stages in 2019, it came with the compromise of having to rally with “a spy in the cab”.
It’s safe to say Kelly was no advocate of black box recording, maybe fearing his insurers would get a hold of Baby Blue’s sideways-ometer. But as the Moy’s maddest modified man explains, it didn’t take long for Kelly to stand in awe of RallySafe.
“RallySafe scared the life out of me when I was going to use it for the first time,” admitted Kelly. “I thought it was a spy in the cab. But after the first few stages of using it you really wonder why we haven’t got this in Ireland.
“All the dramas that were in Irish rallying before Covid: lack of marshals, the cost of building chicanes, safety, insurance, I think RallySafe would fix 70-80% of those four issues.
“When you use RallySafe you have virtual chicanes which was another thing I was scared of until I used it. It was great, not even I can hit a virtual chicane! All you can get is a penalty if you don’t go down to the subscribed speed.
“The marshal numbers could be cut down. For example in Australia they don’t have start marshals because it is a virtual start-line. It uses GPS to record where you are and it will record if you jump start. It counts you down and they don’t touch your paperwork which now is perfect with Covid.
“I have had three different occasions over the years where only for spectators jumping down off a ditch I would have been straight into a crashed car around the corner. That is scary to think that you are relying on spectators either being there or having the wit to slow you down.
“I can’t think of another sport in the world that relies on spectators to keep competitors safe.
“RallySafe would resolve that and I had first-hand experience of that in New Zealand. Only for RallySafe I would have arrived at an accident in front of me in sixth gear. For me, it is a no-brainer. If we don’t have it, at some stage we won’t be rallying anymore.”
Kelly’s comments came pretty much out of the blue, we had been chatting about his plans for the upcoming season. When he mentioned RallySafe, however, my ears dialled into what he had to say. Why? Because Mac Kierans had told me the exact same thing not long before, again without being asked about it.
Described as a no-brainer by Kelly, Kierans comments completely back up his Irish rallying compatriot. While born and bred in Monaghan, Kieran now resides in Australia and has got used to competing with RallySafe on events down under.
“RallySafe has to be one of the most impressive bits of kit going,” began Kierans. “It is used as a tracking device in the rally car.
“If you stop on a stage it will give you an option on the screen to tell rally control if your okay, need help, or if the stage is blocked
“Whatever option you choose is then transmitted to the rest of the competitors running behind you. So the next car coming down the stage gets a notification on its screen stating whether the stage is blocked, okay, or the services are needed.
“It also can be used as a trip, a speedo, all stage times are recorded on it, and it even counts you down at the start-line.
“It’s a really good piece of kit and I think it’s definitely something Motorsport Ireland needs to look into.”
So amazed by RallySafe, Frank and Lauren Kelly put a video together explaining why it’s needed in Irish rallying. If you haven’t watched it already, I’d highly recommend taking seven minutes to give it a watch.
Of course, the question of rally tracking in Ireland has been raised before. 4Rally had won a Motorsport Ireland tender to provide trackers on Irish rallies in 2020. Resistance to the change was met and it was left to individual clubs to decide whether to use trackers or not.
The saga was one of the ongoing issues in Irish rallying halted by coronavirus last year. A leaked Motorsport Ireland letter this year revealed that trackers will once again be made compulsory when closed-road and forestry rallying returns in 2021. Whether this actually happens remains to be seen.
Rally Insight understands that 4Rally was selected over RallySafe due to the expense of introducing the latter. RallySafe also requires satellite coverage which isn’t guaranteed throughout Ireland.
While 4Rally may not have all of RallySafe’s features it still updates crews on upcoming stage blockages which is one of the most important points mentioned earlier by Kelly.
I know this is just one of Irish rallying’s current concerns but when you hear the first-hand benefits of tracking devices, it’s hard to ignore its worth.