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Wednesday 15 August 2018
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Wallerfield woes

There were two accidents over the weekend at the Wallerfield race course with one ending in the death of a driver. The accidents have led the Trinidad and Tobago Automobile Sports Association (TTASA) announcing the closure of the Frankie Boodram International Raceway “until further notice” and a shortening of the track. But that’s not good enough. There needs to be a complete re-conceptualisation of the facilities at Wallerfield with a view to bolstering safety measures. Or else needless deaths will continue.

Certainly, auto racing is an inherently dangerous activity and there will always be accidents. To some extent, no one can guarantee one hundred per cent safety. Even in countries like the United States, there continue to be deaths. More than 520 people have died there since 1989, according to US media, but reliable statistics are elusive. Even the International Automobile Federation (FIA) keeps its world accident database restricted. However, just because auto racing is inherently dangerous does not mean we should be lax in the standards we apply. The cultural phenomenon of drag racing —which remains popular with youth and with persons drawn to its risk and machismo— requires those in authority to take even more decisive action to bring the sport under regulations that can protect both drivers and the many spectators of this sport.

The sequence of events over the weekend raises too many questions. According to reports, on Sunday Darren Sirjoo was competing in a race in his Lexus Altezza when he lost control of the car, which crashed at high speed into a walkover at the side of the track. He was pulled out of the wreckage of the vehicle but died minutes later. On Saturday, racer Ryan Garcia also crashed while racing at Wallerfield almost in the exact spot where Sirjoo crashed. However, Garcia survived the incident. This sequence alone suggests it is possible that more decisive action on Saturday could have prevented Sunday’s fatality. The TTASA announced the halting of racing after Sunday’s race. But that was too little too late.

True, it is always easy, given hindsight, to criticise the actions of authorities when things go wrong. But we have to remember this is not the first such accident at Wallerfield. Have we learned lessons from the 2016 accident in the same venue that injured five people?

Too often deaths or accidents occur at Wallerfield and the knee-jerk response is to close the track. Then, the racing resumes and a few months later another accident occurs. Even when the FIA steps in to examine conditions, and even when new measures are introduced, we do not get a sense that these changes are drastic enough. This has to change. There needs to be a complete overhaul, one that is not skin-deep. Going forward, safety needs to take the driver’s seat.


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