Dakar issues warning alert after car explosion in Jeddah

The organiser of the Dakar Rally has issued a warning statement on the opening day of the marathon following a road car explosion in Jeddah.

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The 44th edition of Dakar Rally kicked off from Saudi Arabia's financial hub on New Year's Day with a short 19km Prologue, but attention was quickly diverted at around 18:30 local time by an official press released issued by ASO.

In the text, the organiser issued a safety alert for the 3,500 or so inhabitants of the touring camp following a bizarre incident on December 29 at the Donatello Hotel in Jeddah where a car exploded.

In a first statement, issued on December 30 at 22:51, ASO said it was " aware of an incident that occured this morning outside the Hotel Donatello, which resulted in the injury of one driver". It said that the driver was being treated in a hospital in the Red Sea coastal city, that his vehicle had suddenly stopped and started to burn.

ASO promised to investigate the incident and to pass on more information when available, saying it was in constant contact with the local authorities to " implement all necessary measures to ensure the full safety of all Dakar 2022 participants and fans".

A second communication followed at 18:25 local time on Saturday, saying that there were six passengers in the car and that five of them were unharmed.

"Only the driver of the car suffered serious injuries to his leg and had to undergo surgery. His condition is improving and his repatriation to France is being prepared. His vehicle was brought to a sudden halt by a sudden explosion, the origin of which is still unknown at this stage," read the statement.

ASO is investigating the incident with the Saudi police, who were on the scene and have not yet ruled out if it was "a malicious act".

However, the Dakar organiser has decided to further reinforce the security that had been in place since its debut in the Arab country in 2020 - and which had already been reinforced for this edition.

"The entire route, the hotels and the bivouacs will therefore benefit from a significant increase in security. In this context, we ask you to observe the greatest vigilance," concludes the press release.

Update: In an interview with French 4, ASO chief revealed that Philippe Boutron was the driver injured in the car explosion.

Boutron, president of the French Ligue 2 football club US Orleans, was registered to race a buggy entered by Team Sodicars. This was to be his ninth Dakar participation, after finishing 33rd in 2021.

"A Team Sodicars support vehicle, on leaving the hotel, was suddenly immobilised, probably by an explosion, and the vehicle caught fire," Castera told the French TV channel. "There were six people on board, among them an injured person, Philippe Boutron, who has a very serious leg injury. He underwent surgery today, he is better and he should return to France in the next few days. We are obviously thinking about him at the moment.

"In this context, the Saudi authorities have mobilised and are conducting a very thorough investigation. Pending an answer, we can't rule out an act of malice, so we have decided with the authorities to very forcefully increase the security measures on the rally."

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Photo by: A.S.O.

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