RALLYING

China driver’s car smashes into Dakar Rally spectators, 10 hurt

Guo Meiling jumps off the road during the prologue near Buenos Aires, Argentina

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 January, 2016, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 January, 2016, 11:20pm

A speeding car driven by Chinese driver Guo Meiling careened off the road and smashed into spectators during the prologue of the Dakar Rally, leaving at least 10 people injured, five of them seriously.

The incident, involving Guo’s Mini, saw the prologue “neutralised” and immediately suspended in horrific scenes, race organisers said.

Guo’s car veered off the course at the 6.6-kilometre mark of the 11km prologue on a stretch of straight country road near Arrecifes, a small town 200 km 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.

Poor weather later forced the cancellation of the opening stage because of safety concerns.

Thunderstorms and heavy rain prompted organisers to scrap the scheduled 600km plus route from Rosario to Villa Carlos Paz, with the conditions grounding safety helicopters and leaving parts of the course flooded.
 

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 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.