Carlos Sainz's WRC career may already be over, as the Spaniard contemplates missing the last round of his final season following an accident in testing for Telstra Rally Australia.

The 42-year old, who announced his imminent retirement just a couple of weeks ago, slid off the road an into a tree during Tuesday's pre-event recce, while running through Stirling's Pass, the third scheduled stage of this weekend's rally. He reported that his Citroen Xsara WRC got out of shape, before straightening up and gripping again as he tried to correct the slide. The impact with the tree was estimated at 80kph.

"In a long and fast left-hander," Sainz explained "I picked the right line and slid the car into the tightening bend, but a sudden change of grip launched us towards the outside, where we hit a big tree."

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Sainz completed the stage in the spare car but, after complaining of neck pains, was transferred to hospital in Perth, where doctors diagnosed damage to a disc in his neck. Although the Spaniard said that the medics could not be clear on whether the injury was a new one caused by the accident, he admitted that he had been advised to wait before confirming his participation in the event. Further examination overnight then prompted the double world champion to reveal that he was unlikely to make the start of the event on Thursday.

"I don't want to take any undue risks," he told Spanish newspaper Marca, "The doctor has told me that the disc is damaged and the slightest blow to it could have serious consequences. Therefore, I will not compete this weekend."

Sainz's decision was undoubtedly influenced by the high-speed nature of the Australian event, which has seen its fair share of dramatic incidents in the past. The surface is often slick, characterised by 'ball-bearing' gravel, and trees closely line the forest routes.

His enforced exit is a disappointment for the man who would have celebrated his 195th WRC start in Australia, but Sainz insists that he has no regrets about pulling out.

"It was really important for me to drive in the last round, but the doctors have the last word," he said, "You cannot predict anything, and I did not know that Catalunya was going to be my last rally, but the send-off they gave me in Spain will stay in my mind forever."

Citroen confirmed that Sainz and co-driver Marc Marti would not take part in the rally, and would likely fly home before it starts. Sainz is currently wearing a neck brace to ease his discomfort, but Marti received only muscle pains from the incident. S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will now pilot the sole Citroen left in the field.