Sat, Jan 11, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Rally driver escapes with his life

AUTO CRASH Japan's Kenjiro Shinozuka hit a sand dune in his Nissan pick-up and rolled for several meters, but left hospital yesterday despite his serious injuries

REUTERS , TUNIS

Medics of the Dakar Rally, right, give first aid to Japan's Kenjiro Shinozuka and his co-driver Thierry Delli Zotti of France after their car flipped over in the Libyan desert during the eighth stage of the rally, on Thursday. Shinozuka and Delli Zotti suffered serious injuries but released themselves from hospital yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Former Dakar Rally winner Kenjiro Shinozuka was out of danger yesterday, having won a fight for his life after an accident on Thursday's eighth stage of the event left him in a coma with serious facial injuries.

The 54-year-old Japanese driver escaped cerebral and abdominal injuries and had recovered sufficiently to fly out of Tunis within 48 hours, the head of the Berges du La clinic said yesterday.

"His situation is very encouraging and he is out of danger," said clinic chief executive Doctor Boubaker Zakhama. "He has recovered consciousness.

"He will leave hospital within 48 hours. He can travel on a normal flight as he does not need medical assistance."

A Reuters reporter saw Shinozuka in bed, apparently enjoying a deep sleep with regular breathing and moving his feet and hands from time to time.

Japan's ambassador to Tunisia, Noritakae Kai, also visited his country's most successful rally driver at the clinic.

Shinozuka's Nissan pick-up hit a sand dune and rolled for several meters halfway through Thursday's 727km stage between Ghat and Sabha in Libya.

Critically injured

He and his French co-driver Thierry Delli-Zotti were taken to the rally center in Sabha where a doctor declared Shinozuka's life was in danger as the Japanese went into a a coma. Delli-Zotti, who suffered fractures in both legs, was described as satisfactory.

The pair were later flown to Tunis-Carthage airport along with six other injured competitors.

The mood among the other injured in the clinic improved dramatically yesterday morning with the news that Shinozuka was out of danger.

They laughed and joked and 38-year-old Delli-Zotti, who had been competing in his 16th Dakar rally, waved a "V" for victory sign for a photographer.

"Only co-pilots suffer accidents," joked another French co-driver, Philippe Rey.

Rey, who suffered fractures in his right hand, said all the injured apart from Shinozuka expected to leave for Paris later yesterday.

Another doctor, who did not wish to be named, said rally organizers wanted the Japanese to leave today, but the clinic preferred him to stay longer.

Long-term prospects

Shinozuka, who won the Dakar Rally in 1997 and with Delli-Zotti finished third last year, has been involved in rallying since 1967.

His victory in the 1991 Ivory Coast Rally was the first world championship win by a Japanese driver and he repeated the feat the next year.

Shinozuka was a factory driver for Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi from 1971 until June 2002 when he resigned rather than stop driving and take the management role he had been offered.

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