ALULA: The AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally, the third round of the new Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, roared into life with a fanfare ceremonial start outside AlUla on Tuesday afternoon.
A large crowd of visitors and local residents gathered at Al-Dawarat center to witness Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, president of Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, and AlUla Gov. Rashid Abdullah Al-Qahtani flag off 60 cars and 16 motorcycles from 22 nations at the start of the third round of the championship.
Before the podium start, racing icons including two-time former Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, winner of the second-round of Rally Qassim 2019 Yazeed Al-Rajhi and top Emirati rally driver Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi attended the official pre-press conference.
The rally began between AlUla and Neom yesterday with a first phase of 212 km, which will be followed by a second phase on Wednesday of 212 km. On Thursday, racers will pass through the village of Abu Qazzaz in a stretch of 231 km, before finally facing the 175 km fourth stage in the Neom area on Saturday.
“This is a ground-breaking event for Saudi Arabia and we are extremely proud to see so many famous names from the world of cross-country rallying here with us,” said Al-Faisal.
He welcomed Alonso for taking part in the rally: “We are very pleased to have such a legendary name in our local rally list and we hope that he will have a successful experience before joining the Dakar Rally, which will be hosted by the Kingdom.”
Alonso will be seen behind the wheels of one of the eight Hiluxes to be fielded by Overdrive Racing and Toyota Gazoo Racing Team South Africa.
Speaking during the pre-event press conference, Alonso said that the AlUla Neom rally will be “excellent training” for him on similar terrain to the Dakar stages next January.
He said: “I am very happy to be here in Saudi Arabia for the first time and would like to express my gratitude for the great welcome and hospitality I have received since I landed here.”
He added “This is my second desert rally after Morocco. I am sure my team will enjoy the stay in this beautiful country and hope to see you again at the Dakar Rally.”