By Samson Ateka
As a result of the inherently dangerous enthusiasm of auto racing, many people,
including drivers, crew members, officials and spectators, have lost their lives in grisly crashes in races, qualifying, practice or in private testing sessions.
Deaths involving competitors and spectators became widespread in the early years of racing. But advances in safety technology have reduced deaths in recent years.
Spectacular crashes have triggered increased safety measures. Widely considered to be the worst accident amongst them is the 1955 crash at Le Mans that killed driver Pierre Levegh and approximately 80 spectators with over 100 being injured.
In the early morning before the final stage of the 2005 Dakar
rally, the motorbike riders knelt on the beach and faced the Atlantic Ocean, holding a simple banner with the words “Ciao Fabrizio”.
Fabrizio Meoni of Italy, twice winner of the rally, was one of two motorcyclists killed in the 17-day event – reviving questions about whether the famous race can be made safer and whether it should even take place at all.
A French member of parliament wrote to his prime minister to demand the race be outlawed, arguing “ you cannot encourage road safety at home while allowing drivers and motorcyclists to roar around Africa at dangerously high speeds.”
Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM, which has provided machines for many top riders called for talks with the rally organisers to improve safety.
“It’s always very sad to hear a competitor has died but this race is a trial and no one forces us to face this trial,” said Mitsubishi driver Stephane Peterhansel, who won his second straight Dakar in the carevent in 2005.
“We know we are coming here to have emotions, to get an adrenalin rush but we also know there is a large element of risk, particularly on the motorbikes,” said the Frenchman, who took the bike title six times before switching to cars.
Cyril Despres, the French rider who won the bike event in 2005, lost two close friends to rallying in just a few months — Meoni and Richard Sainct, a three-times Dakar winner killed in the Pharaohs Rally in Egypt in September.