Motorsport events that are deathtraps

Motorsport events that are deathtraps

Dakar Rally. Picture credit: Marcelo Maragni/ Red Bull Photofiles

There is no doubt that motorsport is dangerous. Formula 1, MotoGP, World Rally Championship et al. are great to watch but each time the driver or rider gets going, there are chances of serious injury or even death. Safety has improved by leaps and bounds over the decades, but the risk is always there.

However, there are other annual events that are far more dangerous than MotoGP or the WRC. The Dakar Rally and the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy are two of the most dangerous events in the world and the risk to life and limb is very high. But danger does not seem to be a deterrent as there are a lot of entries for such events.

DH takes a look at some of the most dangerous motorsport events across the world.

Dakar Rally
It started out as the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979 and it is one of the most grueling endurance events in the world. The event is held in the desert and the heat and tough terrain make it extremely challenging.

The total distance covered is about 10,000 Km in about a week and the daily competitive distance covered is about 900 Km. The highest number of entries were received in 2005 and the number was 688.

There are frequent deaths, mainly due to competitors getting lost in the desert or accidents. Serious injuries are common since it involves rallying on massive sand dunes or rocky terrain. Till now, 70 people have died during the event and this includes 28 competitors.

The bikes, cars, trucks, quads and Utility Task Vehicles that are used in competition are heavily modified to tackle the rough terrain.

Originally, the event started in Paris, crossed European and several African countries before the finish in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

The 2008 edition was cancelled due to fears of terrorist attacks in Mauritania. From 2009, the event moved to South America and has been hosted by Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. This year, the rally was held only in Peru. Due to this shift to South America, the event is now known just as the Dakar Rally.

International Isle of Man Tourist Trophy

Picture credit: Jonathan Camp

This is an annual motorcycle event that is run usually in May and June. The first time trial event was held in 1907, but other races were being conducted from 1904.

What makes this event dangerous is that competition is held on closed public roads in the Isle of Man (between Great Britain and Ireland). The roads of this hilly region are very narrow at places. The current lap record is held by Peter Hickman with a top speed of 217 Kmph.

It is estimated that 250 people have died during the event.

There is one week of practice sessions and one week of competition. Bike classes in the event are Superbike, Sidecar, Supersport, Superstock, TT Zero Challenge, Lightweight TT Race and Senior TT race. The engine capacities of these bikes has ranged from 50cc (in the 1960s) to 1000cc in the Superstock class.

Le Mans 24 Hours

Picture credit: United Autosports

This endurance race has been an annual affair from 1923 at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans (France).

Till now 22 drivers have died in competition and there have been nasty accidents. In 1955, over 80 spectators and a driver were killed and that led to more safety being brought into force.

It is considered a very prestigious race since it tests man and machine for 24 hours without a break and the distance covered is just over 5000Km. Teams attempted to compete with just one driver but this was banned and the current rule is that a minimum of three drivers must drive each car. Le Mans Prototypes (LMP) 1 and 2 are the highest classes and the others are Grand Tourer, GT Endurance Pro and GT Endurance AM.

Sports cars are modified to different levels depending on the class and the top speed is around 330 Kmph.

Baja 1000

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This is an annual Mexican race that has been run from 1967. Just like the Dakar Rally, this is a grueling event and the weather could vary from intense heat to snow. Dust storms are also a big danger in this Baja peninsula region.  

This event is open to motorcycles, All Terrain Vehicles, UTVs, production vehicles, buggies, trucks and custom built vehicles as well. Volkswagen Beetles are also used and known as ‘Baja Bugs’.

There are two kinds of races. The point to point race is about 1600 Km and the loop race is about 1300 Km.

A unique problem with this event is that locals often dig holes to sabotage the event or create obstacles hoping that the competitors will jump and they will get to see a spectacular show.

Since the roads are not closed, competitors have to be alert all the time since locals often race alongside the competitors.

Deaths have occurred and there is widespread criticism of the bad safety for competitors.

Daytona 500

Picture credit: Nascarking

One would tend to think that a NASCAR race on a proper track is far safer than some of the events above.

However, this race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach (Florida) is not the safest because powerful cars are jostling for the lead at about 330 Kmph and are inches apart from each other. Crashes are common and there have been 28 deaths in the whole series. Multiple time champion Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001 at the Daytona 500 was the last fatality in the series.

The Daytona 500 is just one race of the NASCAR Cup Series and competitors have to do 200 laps (about 800 Km) of an oval track. It is usually the first race of the season.

Macau Grand Prix

Picture credit: Ngchikit

This event has been run annually from 1954 and sports, Formula and Touring cars are raced apart from motorcycles.

This is the only street circuit event that has both bikes and cars competing. The 6.2 Km track has fast straights and very tight corners and accidents are common. A Formula 3 car can reach a top speed of about 275 Kmph on the straights.

Eight motorcycle riders and one car driver have died in competition. Last year, German racer Sophia Florsch suffered a spinal injury following a crash. Her car was launched in the air after losing control and it ended up crashing into a photographers’ bunker.

Ayrton Senna was the first Formula 3 winner and other winners here include Michael Schumacher, Riccardo Patrese, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher and Takuma Sato.