Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia at risk of being canceled as suspected terror attack plunges driver into coma in incident described as “something from a scene of war”
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Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia is at risk of being canceled after a driver was seriously injured in a car explosion deemed to be a suspected terrorist attack.
An explosion on December 30 left driver Philippe Boutron in a coma with serious leg injuries, while his four passengers managed to pull away.
The off-road endurance event is known as one of the toughest challenges in motorsport and one of the flagship events on the racing calendar.
Formerly known as the Dakar-Paris Rally, the race took drivers from French capitals to Senegalese capitals, but was later moved to South America in 2009 following security threats.
Since 2020, the Dakar takes place only in Saudi Arabia, but the future of the competition and its location could be in doubt following the explosion.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said authorities were considering canceling this year’s event while prosecutors investigate the alleged terrorist attack.
“We thought it might be better to abandon this sporting event… the question remains open,” he said. “There was potentially a terrorist attack on the Dakar. “
The explosion happened during the preparation for the event, with stages taking place from January 1 to 14.
The five occupants of the car were French, and passenger Thierry Richard told AFP he was certain it was a terrorist attack.
“It was an attack, they blew us up,” he said. “It was like something out of a war scene.”
Richard’s car was lifted off the ground in the explosion and caught fire in an instant.
“We’re not stupid, we know what an explosion looks like,” he explained.
The 61-year-old driver, Bourtron, has since recovered from his coma in France, but his son said his father’s legs remained “seriously injured”.
The French authorities asked the participants and the organizers to “take care as much as possible – security risk” having already been victims of attacks in Saudi Arabia.
In 2020, a guard was injured in a knife attack at the French consulate in Jeddah, while two other people were injured in a bomb attack on foreign diplomats weeks later during a anniversary for the end of the First World War.
The iconic race begins in Ha’il and ends in Jeddah, the city that hosted the penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship in 2021.
Competitors race in cars, motorcycles and trucks, with a host of big names competing in past events.
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr’s father Carlos Sainz Sr won the event for the second time in 2020, while current Alpine driver and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso also competed.
Former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas also took part in the event known to be the most difficult in motor racing.
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