Motor racing: Dakar Rally's opening stage cancelled due to bad weather

Aerial view of the Dakar Rally 2016 camp in Carlos Paz, Argentina on Jan 3, 2016.
Aerial view of the Dakar Rally 2016 camp in Carlos Paz, Argentina on Jan 3, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

ROSARIO, ARGENTINA (AFP, REUTERS) - Poor weather forced the cancellation of the opening stage of the Dakar Rally on Sunday because of safety concerns, a day after 10 people were injured when a car crashed into spectators.

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

"The Dakar doesn't stop when it rains but when it's not possible to guarantee the normal security presence" for the rally, race director Etienne Lavigne told AFP.

"The weather conditions are very bad. The relay plane (which helps with radio communications) was unable to fly. Helicopters can't take off. The situation isn't going to improve in terms of visibility," he added.

The first stage was supposed to include a 258km timed special for cars and a 227km section for motorcycles, but the entire field instead travelled to Cordoba under link section conditions.

The weather is again expected to have an impact on Monday's stage, with Lavigne admitting it could be shortened by at least 150km.

"It is going to rain for much of the night and then again during the afternoon," he said. "There are several solutions: move the departure point, shorten the special sections so as not to be bothered by the rain. The objective is to maintain security."

The 38th edition of the Dakar Rally, which will cover more than 9,300km across Argentina and Bolivia, commenced with Saturday's prologue which was "neutralised" and then immediately suspended after a crash involving the Mini of Chinese driver Guo Meiling left 10 people hurt.

A 10-year-old boy and his father were seriously injured and underwent surgery overnight, with Lavigne adding both were in a "stable condition".

However, Lavigne said the condition of a third man "deteriorated in the night" with doctors offering a "guarded prognosis".

The annual Dakar Rally, which started out as a gruelling endurance race from Paris across the Sahara to the Senegalese capital Dakar, has been held in South America since 2009 for security reasons.

This year's event starts and ends in Argentina with an incursion into Bolivia after Peru pulled out due to forecasts for the El Nino weather pattern that has caused flooding and landslides in the past.