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Spectator safety under scrutiny again as 13 hurt in rally crash.

ANinvestigation has been launched into spectator safety following an accident that injured 13 people in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain on Saturday.

The investigation by the Motor Sports Association, the sport's governing body in Britain, will produce a report to the motor sport's world governing body FIA.

A 13-year-old needing surgery for leg injuries and an adult with back injuries, who is expected to be discharged today were the only victims still hospitalised at Glangwili, Carmarthen, yesterday, following the accident at Brechfa.

The others were sent home after treatment for cuts and bruises on Saturday afternoon.

They were hurt when a Ford Focus driven by Spain's Carlos Sainz failed to negotiate a bend in a forestry road, hit a parked car, and ploughed into a group of spectators during a special stage 11 of the rally which finished in Cardiff yesterday.

The injured were treated on the spot by paramedics and were relayed to hospital by two helicopters and a convoy of ambulances.

Witnesses described it as a freak accident and supported the assurances of rally organisers that spectator safety was a prime consideration.

"Generally they keep the crowd well out of the way, especially from the outside of bends where it would be suicide to stand, " said Brechfa postmaster Peter Winchester.

"The accident happened when the rally car hit a parked vehicle and glanced off it into the crowd - it was just a one-off thing that you couldn't really have anticipated.

"The irony is that the same stage where the accident happened was scrubbed from the results on Thursday because a spectator had a heart attack."

Rally car park marshal Keith Jones, who also lives in Brechfa, said the accident left everyone stunned.

"Everyone was very concerned for the people that were hurt and for the driver who was very upset, " said Mr Jones.

"The spectators are kept well away from the track, although some do edge forward to try to get a better view, and they sometimes pay the price.

"The accident left a bitter taste, but the emergency services were excellent."

Both men said the rally is popular in the locality, where local organisations and schools are able to earn a percentage of the takings by acting as car park marshals.

"People look forward to the rally coming as it brings a bit of life to the area as well as extra revenue, " said Mr Jones.

Mr Winchester said half the local population turns out to see the event.

"All the young people and most of the older ones enjoy it and it's a much-needed economic boost, " he said.

Sainz, who was world rally champion in 1990 and 1992, said afterwards that the accident happened as he went over the crest of a hill.

"At the braking point it was quite slippery and we went straight and could not stop, " he said.

"We hit a car and then we hit some spectators. We immediately realised that people had been injured and advised the team on the radio.

"The next four hours were not very nice until we realised nothing serious happened and the people involved were not badly injured."

Sainz's Ford Focus was taken away to be checked by police at Carmarthen. The driver was also interviewed by police but released later.

After the accident, Ford withdrew both Carlos Sainz and their young British driver Mark Higgins, who was fifth overall, from the rally.

Rally champion has had his share of bad luck

MADRID-BORN Carlos Sainz, aged 39, won the world rally championship in 1990 and 1992 with his co-driver Luis Moya and has since been out of the top three only once.

He is one of Spain's most popular sportsmen and was officially recognised in 1994 when King Juan Carlos presented him with a Gold Medal for his achievements.

Sainz and Moya should have won a third world championship in 1998 but their hopes literally went up in smoke 300m from the finishing line.

Their Toyota car coasted to a halt and caught fire and Sainz threw his crash helmet through the windscreen in frustration. Last year they crashed 600m short of the finish in Argentina when their car hit a barrier and forced them to retire.

And last November Sainz was sensationally excluded from Rally Australia for stopping his car between the warning and flying finish stop boards.

CAPTION(S):

DEEP CONCERN: Luis Moya was co-driver as Carlos Sainz crashed into spectators on the Brechfa stage of the Network Q Rally; and the damaged car after the accident which injured 13 people
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 26, 2001
Words:759
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