In a bizarre twist to the story of 17 World Rally Championship drivers receiving fines and bans after being caught speeding on public roads during the 2002 Network Q Rally of Great Britain, motorsport's governing body has rounded on host city Cardiff amid suggestions that the region might be too dangerous to stage the event.

According to FIA reasoning, the use of speed cameras along some of the routes used by competitors and fans during both the 2002 and 2003 events suggests that some of the roads making up the non-competitive sections are too dangerous for use, thereby putting the event in jeopardy. Some of the sport's leading names were featured among more than 2000 registered offences on the 2002 rally, mainly caught exceeding the limit on a stretch of road used to link rally HQ and the shakedown area in Neath. Four drivers, including new Peugeot recruit Freddy Loix received driving bans as part of punishments handed down by Port Talbot magistrates.

"Road safety is a matter of the utmost importance to the FIA," a spokesman for the governing body said, "The actions of the police and magistrates seem to indicate that this is an exceptionally dangerous location for a rally, and the FIA has therefore asked its safety delegate for a report on the suitability of the local public roads for a world championship event."

The local South Wales Police force - which set up the cameras more to target unruly fans than those directly involved in the event - has yet to respond to the criticism, but said prior to the court cases that it had been bombarded by complaints from residents in and around the rally locations concerned by the high number of cars exceeding the signalled limits. Again, these included both competition cars and those of fans caught up in the excitement of the event - BBC Wales television reported one incident of a rally fan being clocked at 135mph on the 70mph M4 motorway between stages.

Despite the 'speed camera culture' becoming endemic in the UK, Wales Rally GB organisers must now wait to see on which side of the argument the FIA finally decides to settle. They are, however, determined to stamp down further on the complaints of speeding.

"The organisation has worked hard this year to ensure that all the competitors are aware of all speed restrictions," a spokesman for Rally GB Ltd told the regional HTV Wales television network, "Obviously, the organisers would like to see the incidence of speeding eliminated completely for next year's event."

Cardiff has hosted Britain's round of the WRC for four years, and has another three seasons to run on its current contract. Despite complaints from rally fans in other parts of the country - who were used to seeing a more widespread event in the days of Lombard sponsorship - the event has proved to be popular with competitors.

 

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