The opening weekend of action at the 2016 Dakar Rally has been severely disrupted after a car crashed and ploughed into spectators on Saturday’s prologue stage, injuring 11 members of the crowd. Six adults and 5 children were struck when car #360, an X-Raid Mini piloted by Chinese rookie Guo Meiling, left the road on the preliminary test near the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. All casualties were swiftly airlifted to hospital, where authorities have reported that two victims, a father and his 14 year-old son, are in a serious condition.
The seven-mile Prologue stage is a new addition to the Dakar schedule this year and was intended as a preliminary qualifying-style stage. However, as medical teams responded to the incident, no further cars, bikes, quads or trucks were allowed onto the route and the stage was subsequently cancelled.
Further disruption, this time in the form of heavy rain, then forced the abandonment of Sunday’s first full 150-mile test at Villa Carlos Paz meaning timesheets remain blank after the first 48 hours of competition.
After an abortive opening weekend, the 2016 edition of the world’s most demanding rally is due to get underway on Monday 5th January. The Mini X-Raid team, which this year boasts a particularly talented roster of drivers including ex-WRC star Mikko Hirvonen, 2015 champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and his predecessor Spain’s Nani Roma, will be hoping to claim the converted Dakar crown for a fourth time in succession.
However, this time round competition will arguably be tougher than ever for the Mini boys. The chief threat should come from Peugeot’s star-studded four-man line-up of Stéphane Peterhansel, five-time Dakar motocycle champion Cyril Despres and two bona fide members of WRC royalty; Carlos Sainz and Sébastien Loeb. Each will take to wheel of a Peugeot 2008 DKR in their quest to oust Mini from the top of the Dakar tree.