Dakar Rally stars gear up for ‘thrilling’ Saudi race challenge

The first stage of Rally Qassim began in Umm Sidra covering a distance of 170km. Several drivers are keen to test before the Dakar Rally crosses the country for the first time in January 2020. (SPA)
Updated 19 October 2019

Dakar Rally stars gear up for ‘thrilling’ Saudi race challenge

  • French driver Stéphane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner of the Dakar Rally, revealed that he was initially surprised to hear that the competition had been moved from Africa to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Dakar Rally drivers are gearing up for a “thrilling and exciting” challenge when the world-famous desert race is staged in Saudi Arabia for the first time next year.
The Kingdom will host the event from Jan. 5 to 17, 2020 with top racers from around the globe traveling thousands of kilometers through inhospitable terrain in cars, trucks and on quad bikes and motorcycles.
The rally will begin in Jeddah and follow a tough route through desert, sand dunes and mountainous areas taking in NEOM, the Red Sea Project, Riyadh and Qiddiya.
French driver Stéphane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner of the Dakar Rally, revealed that he was initially surprised to hear that the competition had been moved from Africa to Saudi Arabia.
“However, after doing some research, I realized that Saudi Arabia was a very wonderful and suitable country for the rally. It has different terrain types, and I expect us to have a perfect track. The vast desert gives me hope that the 2020 Saudi Dakar Rally will be more thrilling and exciting than Africa,” he said.
Five-time Dakar Rally winner and fellow French driver, Cyril Despres, said that racing in Saudi Arabia would be a new adventure that could only be experienced by those who lived up to its challenges.
“When I heard that the Dakar Rally was moving for the first time to the Middle East, I remembered the words of its founder, Thierry Sabine, who said that if you liked exploring the African continent, you would also love exploring other parts of the world,” he added.

Positive move
British rally raid motorcycle rider, Sam Sunderland, who won his category in the 2017 Dakar Rally, said he was delighted to be participating in the Saudi race. “I believe that this change is good, as I have lived in Dubai for 10 years, having adapted well to the Middle East’s atmosphere.

When I heard that the Dakar Rally was moving for the first time to the Middle East, I remembered the words of its founder, Thierry Sabine, who said that if you liked exploring the African Continent, you would also love exploring other parts of the world.

Cyril Despres, French driver

“Exploring a new area is a positive move for the Dakar Rally, and I am certain that everyone who practices this sport is excited to explore a new ground for racing,” Sunderland added.
ED Racing Team driver, Issa Al-Dossari, said the main reason he had taken part in Rally Qassim was to prepare for the Dakar challenge.
“We will be using two cars in the rally. We look forward to raising the level of preparedness for many coming global events. But this does not mean that we will not compete for the top places.”
Al-Dossari invited sports fans to visit the team’s headquarters at Date City to see equipment and meet its members.
The team must participate in two different cars, the first driven by Al-Dossari with his French navigator Sébastien Delaunay, and the second with Emirati Abdallah Al-Huraiz behind the wheel and Ali Hassan navigating.
The first stage of Rally Qassim began on Friday in Umm Sidra covering a distance of 170 km, with stage two raced over 200 km.
Meanwhile, entry registrations for the Dakar Rally are still open in all categories at https://www.dakar.com/en/the-competitors/register.


Fernando Alonso ramps up Dakar Rally preparations with podium finish at AlUla-Neom cross-country rally

Updated 9 min 2 sec ago

Fernando Alonso ramps up Dakar Rally preparations with podium finish at AlUla-Neom cross-country rally

  • The result comes at perfect timing less than two months before two-time Formula 1 world champion tackles Dakar
  • Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi took first place

JEDDAH: Fernando Alonso continued his preparations for his Dakar Rally debut in Saudi Arabia by taking third place in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally and secure his inaugural rally podium finish in the process this week.
The result comes at perfect timing less than two months before two-time Formula 1 world champion Alonso takes the wheel for Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020, the Middle East’s first-ever edition of Dakar Rally, which is hosted by the kingdom from 5 to 17 January.
“It was an ideal preparation for Dakar as we discovered new terrain that we will come across again at Dakar,” Alonso said.
“It is a great feeling to finish third and get the first rally podium in my life. The fact that it happened here in Saudi Arabia at this time gives us a lot of confidence going into Dakar,” Alonso added.
Starting in AlUla and extending over 765km before the finale in Neom, AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally was contested across four stages over five days, and the former Formula 1 champion said it was an “excellent training” for him on a similar terrain and in close weather conditions to what would be expected at Dakar.
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi took first place at Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally, while compatriot Yasir Seaidan finished second, with Alonso rounding off the podium places.
Alonso, who made his desert rally debut in Morocco last month, was co-driven by five-time Dakar bike winner Marc Coma, and the Spanish duo will be together again at Dakar Saudi Arabia as part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team.
The 2005 and 2006 Formula 1 champion got his campaign at Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally underway to a good start on Day 1 before taking the pace up a notch on the second and third days to set his team up for a podium finish on the last day. “We continue with our plan and preparations, step by step and adapting as fast as we can,” Alonso said of his plans ahead of Dakar.
Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will consist of 12 stages, allowing pilots coming from across six continents to discover Saudi Arabia’s rich past, live its modernized present, and meet its future as they race through the Kingdom.
The pilots will kick off Rally Dakar from Jeddah, the bride of the Red Sea, through to Neom, a fully sustainable city of the future, then pass by the historical sites of Riyadh to face the Empty Quarter, a huge desert of unbroken sand, to end in Qiddiya, a future entertainment, sports and cultural destination.
A criminal investigation was been launched after an armed man intercepted a vehicle taking part in the rally.