A DISPUTE over the safety of this year's Hong Kong to Beijing Rally led to the Hong Kong Automobile Association (HKAA) forcing its chief executive to resign, the South China Morning Post has learned. The HKAA has refused to comment about why Phil Taylor had to leave his job of 14 years last week, but sources close to the dispute said Mr Taylor feared the 3,800-kilometre rally was unsafe, and that angered other board members. At least one bystander was killed during the seven-day race through central China, with unconfirmed reports of several other deaths. It is unclear whether any race cars were involved. Several support vehicles were wrecked in crashes on China's treacherous roads. Two people had to be flown to hospital in Hong Kong after their support vehicle collided with a lorry. The mainland organiser, the China Motor Sports Association, has not released a figure for the total number of casualties. The HKAA's new chief executive, Kendy Chan, said: ''We don't intend to push the issue and ask them.'' Sources say that, months before the event, Mr Taylor submitted a report to the rally organising committee saying the course stages were too long and the support vehicles would have to drive through the night to keep up with the race cars. He recommended the rally be delayed by several weeks until the problems had been sorted out. His criticisms were rejected, and Mr Taylor resigned from the committee. During the rally, two stages had to be cancelled because race marshals lost touch with the race vehicles. But Mr Chan said he was sure the rally was safe. ''I have no doubt about it. It is an excellent event, and it has been a great success.'' HKAA board member Walther Nahr said car rallies were by nature dangerous, and so were China's roads. ''There may well have been accidents on the route. But just because the rally went through that day doesn't meant it was responsible,'' he said. The HKAA announced last night the race would take place again next year, and this time would be part of the official Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. That means the rally course and organisation must meet the standards of the world-wide motor sport organisers. the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA). The race sponsor, British American Tobacco, said it would continue to back the event, but no one was available to comment about its safety.