Positive report following Latvala's Rally Portugal accident
Accident investigators have revealed in a comprehensive internal report that continued measures to improve safety by further strengthening the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car enabled Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka
Anttila to escape injury during their violent crash on last month's Rally of Portugal.
The Ford World Rally Team's report into the incident, which occurred on the first day of the rally, highlights how the car's cutting-edge design features saved the driver and co-driver from serious injury.
Such is the strength of the Focus RS WRC that despite plunging around 200 metres down a hillside, many areas of the car's bodyshell can be rebuilt and used in further rallies later in the year.
Latvala's accident on the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship was one of the most dramatic in the sport's history. Footage of the crash has been watched more than 450,000 times on the YouTube video sharing website.
The report was prepared by Latvala's engineer, Tim Jackson, who works for British-based M-Sport, Ford's long-term WRC partner.
"As horrific as this incident appears from the video recordings, the safety structure of the car performed excellently and precisely as designed in protecting the driver and co-driver," he determined.
"The use of relatively ductile materials such as T45 Steel for the roll-cage meant that the steady – but limited – deformation of the roll cage structure not only absorbed sufficient energy to protect the occupants, but also that the many undamaged areas of the body shell can be rebuilt and used again."
"The introduction of increased safety measures – both by regulation and design choice – have proved to be beneficial in the incident, meaning that the driver and co-driver were both able to walk away uninjured," added Jackson.
Data showed that the accident, 9.1km after the start of the fourth speed test, began when 24-year-old Latvala began to brake on a crest which hid a left-hand corner.
"As the car left the crest it started to become 'light', meaning that both the braking and steering actions were not as effective due to the reduced loading on the tyres," explained Jackson.
First the rear and then the front of the Focus RS WRC hit the bank on the inside of the corner, flinging the car over a roadside barrier and down the hillside, gathering momentum as it barrel-rolled. The bonnet and tailgate became detached while Latvala's door opened and was crushed during the rolls.
"However, the door hinges and locking mechanism are still in good condition. Both these are, by regulation, standard production car items," wrote Jackson.
The car stopped rolling when it hit a tree, without which it is expected the accident would have continued for a further 50 metres. The incident lasted 19.8 seconds with the car completing 12 full rolls. Despite the violence of the crash, the report reveals that the shape of the cockpit area was 'maintained excellently'.
Both Latvala and Anttila were using the FIA safety seat, introduced into the Focus RS WRC in October 2008 and mounted into the car using M-Sport designed aluminium brackets which exceed minimum safety requirements.
"Following the incident the seats and mounting brackets on both driver and co-driver sides are in visibly in 'like new' condition showing that these extra safety measurements were beneficial," the report indicated.
In addition to its immensely strong roll cage, the Focus RS WRC is equipped with a raft of safety features including built-in fire extinguishers and rupture-proof fuel tanks. More recent safety enhancements include the use of door-mounted safety foam to add protection in side impacts.
Each Focus RS WRC is now tracked with GPS, allowing emergency services precisely to pin-point crash locations and respond faster. Both driver and co-driver wear flame retardant overalls, gloves and hoods. F1-style Head And Neck Safety (HANS) devices are now also mandatory, reducing the risk of whiplash injury.
"We are constantly striving to find ways to make the sport safer and we have made significant progress in recent years," said the Ford World Rally Team's Technical Director, Christian Loriaux.