Horrific scenes at Dakar Rally prologue

2016-01-03 07:35
Dakar Rally (File)

Arrecifes - A speeding car careened off the road and smashed into spectators during the prologue of the Dakar Rally on Saturday, leaving at least 10 people injured, five of them seriously.

The incident, which involved the Mini of Chinese driver Guo Meiling, saw the prologue -- which takes place before the first stage Sunday -- "neutralised" and immediately suspended in horrific scenes, race organisers said.

Guo's car veered off the course at the 6.6-kilometer mark of the 11-kilometer prologue on a stretch of straight country road near Arrecifes, a small town 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

Race chiefs immediately deployed four medical helicopters, three medical vehicles belonging to the organisers and eight local ambulances to the scene of the accident.

A man and his 14-year-old son were the two most serious cases and had to be rushed to hospital, Carlos Mondino, the health secretary of Arrecifes, told channel Todo Noticias.

"In total, we had 10 patients, including four children and one pregnant woman, who is ok," said Daniel Modesto, head of the local hospital.

Etienne Lavigne, the race director, said in a statement that a dozen people were hurt, including Guo.

The accident left Guo's car battered, its bonnet strewn on the ground, as emergency workers carted the injured off on stretchers.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 people were expected along the route of the prologue.

In 2015, Polish motorbike rider Michal Hernik died at the end of a stage, but the last accident involving spectators at the Dakar Rally was in 2011, when one person was killed.

Nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb had safely negotiated the prologue in his debut on the Dakar Rally.

Dutchman Bernhard ten Brinke, driving a Toyota, had claimed victory, taking 6min 08sec to cover the 11 km special, beating Carlos Sainz (Peugeot) and Xavier Pons (Ford Ranger).

Loeb is seeking to follow in the footsteps of Ari Vatanen, who won the Dakar in his first attempt in 1987, back when it was raced in Africa.

"It was important to clear the prologue and avoid any mistakes on the first day," said Loeb, driving a Peugeot 2008 DKR, having raced almost exclusively for another French manufacturer, Citroen.

Sunday's first stage is between Rosario and Villa Carlos Paz.

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