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Stewart speaks out on plans to protect rally fans after deaths

MOTOR racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart has said new measures to distance rally fans from the action at events should be brought in following a fatal crash in the Borders.

SIR JACKIE STEWART: The three-times F1 world champion has been campaigning for four decades to improve motorsport safety. Picture: Getty
SIR JACKIE STEWART: The three-times F1 world champion has been campaigning for four decades to improve motorsport safety. Picture: Getty

However, the three-time Formula One world champion, who led a safety revolution in the sport that saved countless lives, has warned finding a solution that protects spectators will prove challenging.

Sir Jackie will offer expert advice to a Scottish Government review into safety at motorsport events. The review was ordered after three people were killed near Coldstream at the Jim Clark Rally last month.

He said the desire of rally fans to be as close to the track as possible, as well as rallies taking place over long distances on public roads, meant it would not be easy to draw up a plan that would help prevent a similar accident.

However, the 75-year-old said he was confident the "right things will happen" following completion of the review, which he said already had the backing of some of the most powerful figures in world motorsport.

Sir Jackie said: "In rallying they are covering very great distances, it is not a closed circuit, which are designed for the high potential of accidents and are much safer. In rallying it is a bigger challenge because in many cases the cars are on open roads.

"People want to get close to it to get the thrill of the speed and skill of the drivers. But the problem is people can get too close, unprotected, and this occurs. It's something we have to look at.

"Marshalls do not have the same kind of authority the police have in having people move to safety rather than being as close to the track as they were at the Borders. That is something that has to be addressed.

"We have got to address how, when something does go wrong, whether it is a driver error of judgment or a mechanical failure, that as much as possible people are protected from being in a position that they are directly involved. It is not easy."

Iain Provan, 64, and Elizabeth Allan, 63, from Barrhead, and Len Stern, 71, from Bearsden, died on May 31 after a car ploughed into a crowd of spectators at high speed.

In another accident two hours earlier, a rally car also hit five people in what became one of the blackest days in the history of Scottish motorsport.

Witnesses said at previous events the area in which the victims were standing had been cordoned off. It was also alleged a marshall had advised people to stand back, but spectators later moved back to their original positions after the marshall left.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill ordered the review in the wake of the tragedy. It will also consider how safety in bike and kart races can be improved.

The Motor Sports Association, Scottish Auto Cycle Union, Police Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and the Health & Safety Executive will also be involved.

Sir Jackie added: "I think the inquiry the Government has set up is a responsible one. I spoke to the president of the governing body for motorsport in the world (Federation Internationale de l'Auto­mobile) last week and saw him at the Grand Prix in Austria on Sunday. He is very pleased the Government is taking action on this.

"The Motor Sports Association, the governing body in the UK, are already involved. I have spoken to the chairman, the head of the safety group as well as the minister for sport. I think we have the right programme set up, the right things will happen and there will be new dimensions to precautions going forward." Sir Jackie, who won three World Drivers' Championships in the 1960s and 1970s, began a crusade for improved safety in motorsport while a driver.

He successfully campaigned for the introduction of full-face helmets, seatbelts, a medical unit at races, safety barriers and greater run-off areas. He was a close friend of Jim Clark, who was killed in a racing accident in 1968. The annual rally in the Borders is named after him.

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