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What happens to my score if the stage is stopped or blocked? (Force Majeure)

Rally is a complicated and unpredictable sport. Anything can happen out of the stages, and eventually it will happen to you. One of the situations that's often confusing to new ralliers is a thing called "Force Majeure". This is a very small and very vague (intentionally) section of the rule book that gives the officials the power to adjust your scores in unusual circumstances. The vast majority of situations where this rule is invoked by stage officials are the same issue: some kind of stoppage in the stage. Here are some examples:

  • A medical incident on stage stopped competition
  • A crashed vehicle stopped the stage

Let's imagine a rally with ten cars, numbered 1 through 10, leaving in order, and see what this might look like.

On Stage 3, car 6 crashes, rolls, and ends up in the middle of the road. No one can pass. Fortunately, car 7 has a radio and informs the officials, and a sweep vehicle is sent out to pull the wreck clear. The stage times look like this:

1 - 6:45
2 - 6:52
3 - 6:58
4 - 6:57
5 - 7:03
6 - DNF (and rolled into a little ball)
7 - ???
8 - ???
9 - ???
10 - ???

So, what do we do? Here are the first two most obvious options:
1) Not everyone got to race the stage, so the stage is cancelled.
2) Cars 7 through 10 did not complete the stage, so they are scored as a DNF.

Neither of those are very satisfying, let's look at them in more detail:
1) The "Cancel the Stage" option. For cars 1 - 5, they raced their hearts out, they risked their machinery, why should they be penalized for something that happened long after they were even there. Cancelling the whole stage would mean that their efforts were all for nothing, for a reason that wasn't their fault.
2) The "DNF the blocked cars" option. For cars 7 - 10, they did their part, they were just racing until it wasn't possible to race anymore. The reason they couldn't continue was the rolled car. Yeah, the rules say you have to complete all the stages to get scored, but they shouldn't get a DNF for something that wasn't their fault.

And this is where that little "Force Majeure" rule comes into play. The officials of the event will say "Hey, how can we most fairly handle this?" And the key here is "most" fairly. Not perfectly fairly, but as fairly as is actually possible, since the only perfectly fair thing would be if the stage wasn't blocked at all, and you can't go back in time to make that not happen. The officials will look at the scores they have, and say "Ok, who was the last person that got through the stage that actually got a good shot at racing it?" In this case, that's car 5. That time is then assigned to all the cars that didn't make it through. After the adjustment, it looks like this:

1 - 6:45
2 - 6:52
3 - 6:58
4 - 6:57
5 - 7:03
7 - 7:03
8 - 7:03
9 - 7:03
10 - 7:03
6 - DNF

What this does is gives the cars that did race the credit for whatever time they earned. And for the cars that didn't get to finish the stage, since they all get the same time, as far as the overall race is concerned, they haven't moved up or back compared to any of the people they are racing.

The officials are generally clever when it comes to this analysis. So, if the last valid time is really slow and they find out that person stopped to fix a flat tire, they might use the next time up the list. Or they might split the adjustments based on AWD and 2WD if the conditions of the stage were very slippery. In all cases, the real problem is what happened out on the stage, and the officials are trying to adjust the scoring to make the remainder of the race as fair as possible.

With all this in mind, any time you are affected by a Force Majeure type of situation, you need to closely watch the provisional results and see that they were handled properly. You should expect to hand in a timing inquiry at the end of the event to get this fixed properly.