The first round of the European Rally Championship, the Rally di Roma Capitale, was the first international rally sanctioned by the FIA to be run since the COVID crisis began.Australian journalist, Sam Tickell, was there to witness the ‘new normal’.
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The organising body, ACI, should be praised for making the rally run at all, as the lengths they had to go to were quite extreme.
Spectators were not allowed and the restrictions on crew and media throughout the event were quite strict. Random inspections were a threat, but all were on their best behaviour.
The lengths included that all had to be heat tested going in and out of the service park, and only those with special permission and code issued after confirming they were healthy, were given permission to enter.
Masks were compulsory in the service park, regroup zones, etc.
Interviews with crews had to be done at a distance, meaning that media had to have an extension on their microphone or make alternative arrangements to even interview their own drivers.
TV crews could not touch the cars and rather had to wait for the drivers to open the doors and close them afterwards.
But what does it mean? Is this the new normal for whenever we go rallying?
It seems so, as the restrictions for next time out in Latvia are just as extreme. Crowds will be severely limited, as will the passes and access those passes will give.
Competitors and crews coming from so-called “red countries” will have to undertake two or three COVID tests throughout the operation of the rally.
The new 'normal' is even less 'normal' than perhaps we ever thought possible.
Things like the ceremonial start and finish have been cancelled.
It is with a lot of co-operation from the governments and regional councils that these events can occur and praise should be given to the organisers of these rallies.
As a spectator, it is something we'll just have to get used to in the short term.
Given the highly contagious nature of this disease, and what we have seen in the rest of society, just the ability to have the events running, to see them online or on television, and to experience them at all is something that we would never have predicted just a few months ago .
Sure, it was very difficult to cover the first round of the European Rally Championship, but to be there at all was nothing short of a miracle.
In many ways, it is easier for a stadium sport to undertake the game. It is easier to control spectators in a central location and it is easier for local governments to patrol and ensure that healthy and recommended guidelines are being enforced.
I think it is up to all of us to work with rally organisers, and with the people they have to work with to be able to put on these events. We saw the outcome of that in Italy with a fantastic rally.
We just hope we can return to something more normal next year.
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