2023 Dakar Rally: Ales Loprais withdraws from Dakar after fatal accident

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Credit: Aleš Loprais

Following a tragic accident in Stage #9 that resulted in the death of a spectator, Aleš Loprais has elected to end his 2023 Dakar Rally. He had been leading the T5 category’s overall standings with five legs to go.

During the ninth stage on Tuesday, Loprais was clearing a dune when his Praga truck clipped Livio Sassinotti, a 69-year-old Italian who was photographing the race. Although Sassinotti got back on his feet, he collapsed shortly after as nearby attendees came to his aid. He subsequently suffered a heart attack while being taken for medical assistance.

In a video posted Wednesday, Loprais explained he and his team were not aware they hit Sassinotti until they were informed of the accident by officials in the evening. His onboard camera appeared to corroborate this as cockpit chatter focused exclusively on the race and the collision did not generate much notice inside the vehicle.

“They told me this when we came back from the ninth stage,” said Loprais. “We had already been in bed, but the Dakar stewards showed us video footage of an accident from the race, that we hit a man by mistake who took pictures of our Lady under the dune and he was injured. He felt nauseous after two to three hours and he had a heart attack while being transported to the hospital. One human life has ended indirectly and it was my fault, because I was driving.

“I have to admit that me and my crew didn’t know about it at all. We’ve got onboards and other videos that prove it. But this does not change that a human life ended.

“The man was Italian, but I don’t know his name at the moment because of the investigation. A 69-year-old fan that came to see the Dakar race, and unfortunately was standing under the dune, and we didn’t see him at all. None of us.

“I would like to express my sincere condolences to his family and friends. I am very sorry and this accident will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Loprais was the T5 overall leader with a 26-minute, 54-second gap on Janus van Kasteren, while also winning the class in Stage #2. The Czech driver has raced at Dakar since 2006 with a best finish of third in 2007.

The death is the fifth for the Dakar Rally since it was moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020, and the seventy-sixth known in the race’s history.

UPDATE: Article has been updated to include details published by the Amaury Sport Organisation. The ASO released the following statement:

“Ales Loprais has not be able to continue Dakar 2023 following yesterday’s fatal accident involving an Italian spectator. Loprais, who was leader of the general truck classification at the time, was only informed of the tragic news on his arrival at the bivouac last night. Devastated by the unfortunate incident, the Czech driver immediately made himself available to support the local authorities with their inquiry. As a result he could not continue the race. The rally organizers join him in offering their condolences to the family and friends of the spectator, Livio Sassinotti.”

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