2023 Dakar Rally: FIA penalties mount on rest day

Upon completing Stage #8 of the 2023 Dakar Rally, competitors were granted a day of R&R before preparing for the second half. On the other hand, FIA stewards were busy handing out penalties for infractions found during neutralisation and post-stage checks.

Neutralisation takes place in a certain area of a Special Stage where cars undergo routine inspections and drivers can make minor repairs or take a break before resuming the race. Introduced in 2022, neutralisation was tweaked for 2023 to require the inspection process to discourage racers from exploiting the break.

As most penalties for car-related violations were accounted for during and immediately after the stages, most of those handed out during the rest day were for driver-specific conduct. Of those released as of this article’s publishing, many were dinged for their navigators simply wearing wristwatches that were not the approved Rebellion Edition Dakar model.

The Rebellion Edition Dakar is produced by Swiss watchmaker Rebellion Timepieces and given to all Rally participants for timekeeping purposes. Under Article 9.6.1 of the FIA Cross Country Rally Sporting Regulations, this is the only model that racers can use while inside the cockpit as “[w]atches of any kind are not permitted in the competition vehicle, with the exception of the model provided by the Promoter.” Besides plugging the Rally’s partnership with Rebellion, the rule extends to most electronics for safety and competition reasons like to forbid external GPS tracking. Those who are caught receive a thirty-minute time penalty for the stage that it occurred as well as a suspended disqualification from the Rally entirely provided there is “no further breach of similar nature committed by the competitor during this period.”

Yasir Seaidan, who finished runner-up in T4 in Stage #8, received the penalty shortly after the fourth leg when co-driver Alexey Kuzmich was busted. Multiple of their peers suffered the same fate during the rest day for doing the same in Stage #5. Fellow T4 driver Juan Miguel Fidel Medero of the #423 was penalised for co-driver Javier Ventaja‘s oversight, as were class colleagues Sebastian Guayasamin and Ricardo Torlaschi (#430), Xavier de Soultrait and Matin Bonnet (#415), Cristiano Batista and Fausto Mota (#427), Oscar Ral Verdu and Carlos Jimenez Vals, and Toomas Triisa and Mart Meeru (#443). From the T1 category, the #241 of Andrea Lafarja and Ashley García Chávez, #251 of Alexandre Pesci and Stephan Kuhni, #253 of Jean-Pierre Strugo and Christophe Crespom, and #267 of Roger Audas and Patrick Prot were slapped with the watch penalty. The T3 and T5 classes had one violation apiece in the #319 of Helder Rodrigues and Gonçalo Reis (#319) and the #503 of Martin Šoltys, Roman Krejčí, and David Hoffman, respectively.

The #423’s representative Bertrand Marco and García Chávez claimed to not have received the watch while the #503 only got two when there were three riding in the truck, to which the stewards responded they should have requested for one. Bonnet justified himself as his Rebellion Edition Dakar was damaged after use for two days, while Prot asserted he lost his issued timepiece and that his own watch was not digital. All defences were dismissed by the FIA as “it is the responsibility of the Competitor to familiarize himself with the regulations and not to violate them.”

In Stage #7, the #243 T1 of Maik Willems and Robert Van Pelt got a pair of fines at the end of the leg. Van Pelt was docked €250 for not wearing his shoes, breaking Article 47.1: “Whenever a vehicle is in motion on any type of Selective Section and until the stop control, the crew must wear homologated crash helmets, all required safety clothing and equipment in compliance with Appendix L Chapter III – Drivers’ Equipment as intended by the equipment manufacturer and have their safety belts correctly fastened (see also Appendix IV to the present regulations).” While perhaps frivolous in the big picture, the #243 had a much more serious infraction when the fire extinguisher system was found to not be enabled, a violation that expands to the FIA International Sporting Code, where Article 283.7 of Appendix J covers fire safety equipment. The team was therefore fined €1,000.

Cristophe Cresp and Jean Brucy of the #434 T4 team were also fined for not having their extinguisher on during Stage #7. Elsewhere in the leg, Mattias Ekström‘s co-driver Emil Bergkvist lost €250 from his wallet as the shoulder straps on his seat belts were not properly fastened, breaking Article 47.1.

One of the costliest time penalties befell the #525 truck of Alberto Herrero, Susana Hernando, and Mario Rodriguez. After their truck rolled over in Stage #4 and was being repaired, the #516 of Egbert Wingens stopped by to provide spare parts to help solve a water leak, unaware that Wingens was not allowed to be on the route as he failed to start the stage due to the team not arriving in time. Herrero argued the assistance ultimately did not matter as Wingens’ part did not fit the #525 and that the FIA also did not spot Wingens on the track, to which FIA technical assistant Zoltan Balla explained Wingens’ crew was obviously late to the start and was clearly spotted approaching the #525. Balla also noticed an assistance car on the site, which was also prohibited from helping though Herrero asserted he did not receive aid from it.

After days-long deliberation, the FIA ruled the #525 violated Articles 49.1.1 (“From TC0 onwards, service of a competing vehicle may be carried out in Service Areas [Service Parks and Bivouacs] and road sections as permitted under these regulations.”), 49.1.3 (“During Selective Sections any service, except that expressly allowed in these regulations, is forbidden. Only crews with FIA groups vehicles still in the competition for the current Stage/SS may assist each other.”), and 49.2.1 (“The presence of team personnel or any team conveyance [including helicopters] is prohibited within 1 kilometre of its competing vehicle [outside of certain areas]”). Although it was grounds for disqualification, Herrero pleaded for a lighter sentence he was not competing for the World Rally-Raid Championship and was mainly focused on completing the race versus winning. The FIA eventually settled for a 100-hour time penalty.

T1 overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah and his navigator Mathieu Baumel dodged discipline when the FIA elected to not take action regarding their online criticism of the Equivalence of Technology rule, which gave vehicles in the T1.U subcategory like his rival Team Audi Sport a boost in power. Both figures subsequently apologised for their comments and the FIA figured they were “overwhelmed by some kind of emotion at the time. That’s the way it is. The competition is tough, difficult. Sometimes it is emotionally difficult to calmly respond to news, questions asked, etc.”

All competitors have the right to appeal their verdicts.