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Finke Desert Race introduces sweeping new safety regulations following death of spectator

Spectators traditionally crowd the edges of the track to watch the event. (ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

The Finke Desert Race will return in June with new rules governing spectator safety following a serious crash last year that left one man dead and two others injured.  

Canberra retiree Nigel Harris died when he was struck by a vehicle that veered off the track during last year's event. 

His death is believed to be the first in the race's 45-year history, despite the race's infamously lax guidelines for onlookers camped along the remote 230-kilometre off-road track between Alice Springs and Aputula (Finke). 

Race president Antony Yoffa said this year's race would look "very different" following recommendations from a committee that included race organisers and Motorsports Australia. 

He said the race would be introducing spectator exclusion zones for the first time, banning onlookers from particularly dangerous parts of the track. 

There will also be a new ban on camping, cars or fixed structures within 30 metres of the track.

In another first, Mr Yoffa said the race would recommend a safe spectating distance of 20 metres back from the track for its entire length. 

Under the new rules, spectators will be advised to watch the race from a distance of 20 metres. (ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

New rules to be broadcast

These rules are a serious departure for a race that traditionally saw thousands of spectators line the fenceless track in the middle of the desert.

The race president of 20 years said there would not be extra volunteers policing the guidelines. Instead, the race was focusing on messaging. 

He said the race would be advertising the new rules on radio, TV and on cards handed out to every spectator. 

A coronial inquest into the death of the spectator who died, Nigel Harris, will be held in August. (Supplied: Sheryl Harris)

Scrambling to qualify

The annual two-day off-road event — which is billed as 'Australia's greatest desert race' — has traditionally given first-time competitors the opportunity to race against some of the sport's best. 

In recent years, the event has attracted more than 600 competitors in the bike category and approximately 150 cars.

Nigel Harris died when a car veered off the race track and into a crowd of spectators. (ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

Late last year, organisers announced they would be introducing a minimum level of competency for competitors, which Mr Yoffa said had affected this year's numbers.  

Under the new rules, all entrants in both the bike and car categories must have either competed in the Finke Desert Race before or participated in a similar off-road race.

"So people are scrambling around the country to enter events so they can qualify."

Mr Yoffa said the new regulations had meant there were still spots available in the bike category. 

"We have about 70 [spots]," he said of registrations, which close at the end of May. 

A three-day coronial inquest into the death of Nigel Harris is scheduled to take place in Alice Springs on August 23.

The race will take place on June 9–13.

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Dive Deeper:
Finke responds to death with spectator restrictions
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Malcolm Abbott's domestic violence past shows 'urgent action' required to support First Nations
An anti-domestic violence campaigner says her community feels "enraged" and "shattered" over the death of R Rubunjta, following revelations her…
Athletes with a disability like Ainslee Hooper are finding their place in strength sports
Gyms can be intimidating, but these athletes with a disability are finding their place among the weights, pulling and lifting…
Albanese seizes on PM’s ‘bulldozer’ admission; Chinese spy ship off WA coast ‘an aggressive act’, minister says – as it happened
Follow all the day’s news
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Ket sniffing killer linked to deaths of friends and enemies
Gun thug Rueben Murphy plagued Huyton long before he was found guilty of murder
The mystery of the mogul, the casino and the heist that rocked Mayfair
The Park Lane Club was supposed to fulfil Vasilijs Melniks’ fantasy. Instead it became his torment
Get all your news in one place