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A most dangerous precedent has been set by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport in allowing unlicenced drivers to compete in special stage rallies on closed roads.

At the recent Toyota Rally of South Australia, Ford works driver, Michael Guest, was given permission to drive his Ford Focus on the stages of the event despite allegedly having his civil driving licence suspended just prior to the event. During the event Guest and co-driver David Green were seen swapping seats prior to and after competing on the special stages, with Green taking the wheel to drive on liaison sections.

Just two days prior to the August 19 & 20 event, a bulletin covering the change to CAMS regulations in respect of unlicenced driving was released, and was ratified during a tele-conference held on August 16. In effect, the changes to the requirements for all competitors competing in events on special stages on public roads now provides the opportunity for a competitor to apply to ARCom for permission to compete for all or part of an event even if his or her civil licence has been suspended.

With the change in regulations rushed through on the Wednesday before the event, Guest was allowed to compete after signing a declaration that he would not drive the car on roads where a civil driving licence was required. In this respect, Guest was within the regulations set by CAMS and obeyed the requirement that he not drive on public roads by handing the driving over to Green on liaison sections.

However, the change in the CAMS bulletin opens up a Pandora’s box of questions, not the least of which is the matter of what constitutes a special stage. As an example, if the special stage is only the width  the road  that the stage is conducted on, what are the driver’s responsibilities if the car leaves the road and ends up on an access road which is not part of the route?

Allowing unlicenced drivers to compete in rallies could be seen to be a dangerous one which appears to allow competitors to thumb their noses at civil driving regulations. Taken to the extreme, a serial drink driver or a habitual speedster could theoretically be permitted to compete on a special stage while their licence was suspended or pending his or her appearance in court. If nothing else, it sends the wrong message to the public that the act of imposing a penalty by law that is designed to deny the rights of the person from driving as a punishment, can be ignored by rally organizers.

CAMS’ rationale behind the change in the National Rally Code was to align rallying with other disciplines of motorsport which do not require the driver to hold a civil driving licence, except where this is required by law. However this ignores the fact that rallying is one of very few disciplines that uses public roads for competition. By inference, a driver who has been convicted of driving offences and has had their civil licence cancelled or suspended for a considerable length of time, can still compete at will. Court decisions are legally binding and penalties are imposed for a very good reason – to penalize a driver for committing a crime.

The amended bulletin sends completely the wrong message to the public that rally drivers are above the law. As we said before, this is no criticism of Michael Guest who has done nothing wrong aside from apparently losing his civil driving licence, but it begs the question of whether an amended bulletin would have been issued quite so quickly if a state-level competitor had applied for a dispensation, and, in fact, whether any discussion would have been permitted at all.

This alteration to the rules is wrong. The bulletin should be reversed immediately.

- Jeff Whitten

(RallySport Magazine approached CAMS for a comment and/or explanation on the rule change, but none has yet been received.)

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