Mystery death clouds Dakar Rally

Dakar Rally organisers on Wednesday hunted for clues to the cause of the death of motorbike rider Michal Hernik that plunged the race into mourning after only three days.

The 39-year-old Polish rider’s body was found 300 metres (yards) from the desert track with no apparent injury and no damage to his motorbike that would indicate an accident, according to race director Etienne Lavigne.

Lavigne added that there was no helmet on Hernik when the body was found.

“The circumstances surrounding his death have yet to be determined, as the competitor did not show any external signs of an accident,” said a rally statement.

Organisers sent a helicopter to look for Henrik after he failed to arrive at the finish line of Tuesday’s stage between the Argentinian towns of Villa Carlos Paz and Chilecito. His satellite tracker had stopped sending signals.

The Pole was taking part in the Dakar Rally for the first time.

His was the fifth death since the rally was moved to South America in 2009 over security concerns in the Sahara region and the 24th since the race was created in 1979.

Orlando Terranova maintained the Mini team’s winning streak by claiming his second stage win to move third overall in the auto standings led by teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah.

Al-Attiyah, the 2011 champion and winner of Monday’s stage, finished fifth in Tuesday’s stage which included 284km of specials.

South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, picked up his third podium finish in three days, ahead of another Toyota driven by Saudi Arabia’s Alrahji Zayed, to stay second overall.

In the motorbike section, Austria’s Matthias Walkner, was a surprise winner of his first Dakar stage, ahead of KTM teammate and reigning champion Marc Coma and overall race leader Joan Barreda Bort of Spain.

“It was really dangerous because we were on river beds with a lot of stones and broken up tracks all day,” said Barreda Bort.

Some 34 vehicles failed to start on Tuesday after falling victim to Monday’s longest stage, among them the 4×4 of French duo Catherine Houles and Sandrine Ridet, the only 100 percent female team in the event.

However for Japanese veteran Sugawara Yoshimasa, 73 and taking part in his 33rd Dakar Rally, the race goes on in Wednesday’s fourth stage from Chilecito to Copiapo in Chile.

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