Akihiro Kabe, the millionaire Japanese driver of a Ferrari F40, his co-driver and two race officials died. The event is based on The Cannonball Run, the 1981 film starring Burt Reynolds, about an illegal coast-to-coast race in the United States, and the accident sparked a furore from critics of the Northern Territory government for allowing the race to be staged without speed limits.
The six-day race, from Darwin to Ayers Rock and back, a distance of almost 4,000 kilometres, has attracted wealthy amateur drivers from the United States and Japan. There are no speed limits in the sparsely populated Northern Territory where roads are often straight, for hundreds of kilometres, through flat desert.
Kabe's Ferrari was leading the race and was said to be the fastest among the 150 competitors. It crashed about 100km south of Alice Springs when it ran out of control and hit a checkpoint. It was not clear how fast it was going, but organisers confirmed that it belonged to a category of cars which the race rules stipulated should drive at a minimum speed of 190kph.
Officials decided that the race would continue despite calls from road safety experts and some drivers for it to be abandoned. Some critics branded it a fiasco, saying it should never be staged again.