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Fatalities mar Paris-Dakar

Alarm over the worsening safety record of the gruelling Paris-Dakar desert endurance event has been fuelled by a series of accidents which, as we went to press, had claimed two lives and seriously injured several other competitors.

Dutchman Kees van Loevenzijn died and his co-drivers were badly injured when their twin-engined Daf truck overturned. Daf immediately withdrew all its entries.

The next day French co-driver Patrick Canado was killed when his Range Rover collided with a support vehicle for the Yamaha motorcycle team.

These accidents coincide with a huge expansion of interest in the 13,000km event over the last few years, with entries including massive factory-built trucks, and works rally teams which are able to use developments of the now-banned Group B cars because the rally is not run under FIA regulations. Speeds have increased radically, making accidents more severe, and even air-cover cannot guarantee safety. Yet the publicity rewards are huge, and top rally and racing drivers are employed in ever-increasing numbers by wealthy teams.

Ari Vatanen's Peugeot 405 T16 was leading team-mate Juha Kankkunen (205 T16) at the half-way stage, while Formula One pilots entered included Patrick Tambay, Jacques Laffite, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Henri Pescarolo, Jacky Ickx and Philippe Alliot — though only Tambay's Range Rover was in a competitive position.

Britain's Andrew Cowan was putting up good times in one of a host of Mitsubishi Pajeros which were vainly pursuing the leading Peugeots, but Ted Toleman and Barry Lee were forced to retire when their support truck fell too far behind their rapid stretched Metro 6R4. But the importance of victory was anyway being questioned by many long before they arrived in Dakar.

In a 22-day event which takes more than 1000 competitors in more than 400 vehicles across the daunting wilderness of the Sahara, it is clear that safety is impossible to guarantee..