The Dakar Rally 2017 is just five days into its nearly two-week programme but has already suffered some setbacks. Toby Price, the Australian defending champion in the bikes section, crashed out with a fractured left femur.
Price, who was fighting for the lead, crashed into a riverbed at the 371-km mark of the fourth stage, which proved the most difficult stage of the rally so far. A number of participants suffered accidents and crashes, and while some got up, dusted themselves and resumed the race, others like Price had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital where he underwent surgery.
India’s Aravind KP of Sherco TVS too suffered a crash in the third stage and injured his shoulder. He had injured his hand in the previous stage and quit after the third stage crash.
Injury to riders has again turned the focus on safety at Dakar, the world’s toughest endurance rally. It has claimed 70 victims thus far, 28 among them competitors. The casualty list includes 19 bikers and six cars, the last fatal accident in Dakar occurring in 2015.
The fact that many of the daily crashes and accidents have not resulted in casualties – easily possible in a race of Dakar’s nature, speaks volumes about the efforts put in by the organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), to maintain high safety standards.
So, how do they manage to keep a tab on the 400-odd participants in various sections traversing through difficult terrain over 9000km?
The race is monitored from the PCO, the post of operational coordination of the race, which for the 2017 edition is manned by a 35-strong team that is operational round-the-clock. There is a mirror PCO in Paris, which monitors the rally simultaneously. There is also a field hospital, an air ambulance, seven helicopters, 32 wheeled vehicles, including 10 paramedic vehicles and 60 nursing staff, to tend to the injured. The organisers have also pressed into action 22,000 personnel, including local officials, police and military, from three countries to provide security and ensure safety of all stakeholders.
The most important step of this entire operation is to provide immediate help to the competitors, and organisers ensure this by continuous monitoring of the participants through GPS devices.
This year, they have installed two GPS devices — a primary one and another standby which could be activated by PCO, through which every competitor will be monitored.
These GPS devices send signals at regular intervals, and the entire medical assistance procedure kicks into action the moment it is observed that a competitor has not moved between two signals.
The GPS system also includes a communicator through which enquiries could be made about why the competitor is stationary beyond a specific period.
“Usually the answer could be an innocent one like the biker has stopped to pee or mend a punctured tyre. But in case, there is no response from the competitor, attempts could be made to get in touch with a nearby competitor to check on the stationary competitor. Paramedic vehicles or helicopters could be dispatched immediately in case needed,” said Wolfgang Fischer, managing director, Speedbrain GmbH, technology partners of Hero MotoSports Team Rally, and a veteran of Dakar.
Competitors also have to give an undertaking that they would follow all road safety rules and regulations on speed control. They also step in first as personnel of assistance, stopping their race till paramedics reach the accident sites. Just like Joaquim Rodrigues of Hero MotoSports Team Rally did during Thursday’s fourth stage.