Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 route details confirmed as 12 stages of thrill await competitors

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 route details confirmed as 12 stages of thrill await competitors
The Dakar Rally Saudi Arabia 2020 route map. (Supplied)
Updated 20 November 2019

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 route details confirmed as 12 stages of thrill await competitors

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 route details confirmed as 12 stages of thrill await competitors
  • Dakar Rally’s first ever adventure in the Middle East takes place over 7900km of Saudi desert from 5 to 17 January
  • Rally Dakar Director David Castera: Crossing the Dakar finish line is nothing short of living the dream

PARIS: Organisers of the Dakar Rally Saudi Arabia 2020 have officially confirmed route details of the world’s most challenging rally race, which will take place from 5 to 17 January 2020.

Welcoming Rally Dakar as “an event of immense global appeal” that shows the kingdom’s passion and obsession of motorsport, HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud, Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Sport Authority, said: “We have the privilege of launching chapter 3 of the Dakar story, introducing the race to Asia for the first time, where no country better describes the diversity of desert terrains this continent has to offer than Saudi Arabia.”

“Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will go through various terrains and sceneries, unveiling the kingdom’s breath-taking scenery, and will be an exciting opportunity for the world to see the real Saudi Arabia, to meet its generous people and to experience first-hand how we are driven by ambition, professionalism and the steadfast desire to succeed at the highest levels,” he added.

Addressing more than 200 media outlets and broadcasters at a specially hosted press conference on Wednesday 20 November at the Arab World Institute in Paris, HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Abdullah Al Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Arabian Federation of Motor and Motorcycle Sports, and Rally Dakar Director David Castera confirmed details of the 12 Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 stages in the presence of a number of Dakar drivers.

“Saudi Arabia and Rally Dakar come together to write a new chapter of achievements in the world of motorsports, a chapter headlined by the challenge of discovering a new land and written by the warm hospitality the Kingdom and its people have to offer.” HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Abdullah Al Faisal said.

“Through this inaugural rally, the world will see our breath-taking desert, our vast land, and will also meet its generous people.

“We want the world to see our fascinating desert waiting for the adventurous stories to be told. We want the world to see, first-hand, the warm and generous hospitality the people of Saudi Arabia have to offer. We are eager to welcome the world to our country, and to witness our vision, capability and professionalism in hosting the biggest sporting events at the highest levels,” he added.

Extending over 7,500 of the kingdom’s vast and unexplored desert, Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 gets underway in Jeddah before drivers and crews navigate their way through the fast and winding dunes and stones for 752km.

The intimidating challenge continues up north along the coast for nearly 900km through the Red Sea Project till it reaches the futuristic megacity of Neom, where the marvellous journey reaches its highest point at an altitude of 1,400 metres amid a series of canyons and mountains.

A combination of sandy stretches and gravel await Dakar’s thrill-seeking competitors as they cruise through 676km of the formidable trip from Neom to Al Ula in Dakar’s fourth stage before the sandy hills of Ha’il put the navigation skills of competitors to the test while descending south onto Riyadh.

A rest day in the capital will be followed by Dakar Saudi Arabia’s longest stage of 741km as the route takes a turn to the west in the centre of the kingdom’s enormous desert before looping back towards Haradh in the eastern governorate of Al Ahsa, marking the entrance to the Empty Quarter and building up to the grand finale in Qiddiya, a future entertainment, sports and cultural destination, where the winner will be crowned on the final podium.

Highlighting the magnitude of competing in Dakar Rally and finishing the unnerving challenge, Castera said: “Crossing the Dakar finish line is nothing short of living the dream. You can do it on your first go, and sometimes your hopes may be dashed, but ultimately perseverance and clever strategy are most often rewarded. The happiness of these drivers and co-drivers also translates to the satisfaction of the organisers.”

“In Africa, then in South America and now in Saudi Arabia for the launch of this new chapter, this extraordinary rally has always strived to accompany its competitors in the ultimate quest,” the Dakar Rally director added.

Drivers from more than 62 different countries and six continents have registered to experience the unchartered and spectacular terrain of Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020, where they will drive specially modified vehicles, trucks, quad, SxS, and motorbikes, designed to handle 12 stages of various challenging terrains.


Jaguar Racing’s Sam Bird victorious in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (SPA Sport)
Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (SPA Sport)
Updated 22 min 29 sec ago

Jaguar Racing’s Sam Bird victorious in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (SPA Sport)
  • Second Formula E night race ends prematurely after crash involving Maximilian Gunther and Alex Lynn

RIYADH: Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag, with the British driver leading Robin Frijns of Envision Virgin Racing and Jean-Eric Vergne DS TECHEETAH behind him.

In the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, it was Diriyah’s second race under the floodlights to conclude the opening weekend of the 2020-21 Formula E season.

With 25 points Bird is now four points behind Friday’s winner Nyck de Vries of Mercedes-Benz EQ. Jaguar Racing also lead the Team Championship, seven points ahead of Mercedes.

“I was a bit emotional in the car,” Bird, who has now won races in every one of Formula E’s seven seasons, said. “Big move, big step for me leaving what was my family at Envision, they were great to me for six years, joining a new team, but they welcomed me with open arms. I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning but I’ve come not a fantastic team, great bunch of guys. They’re already my family, I’m just so happy that I could give them a result today.”

It was Bird’s first win with Jaguar Racing and 10th in Formula E, and he revealed that the race was not as simple as it may have seemed. 

“I’ve got to say that Robin was so respectful, a pleasure to race against really,” he said. “Just what you’re expect from a man of his caliber. And it was great fun.”

The runner-up was disappointed that some tactical decisions did not work out, but was still please with the overall outcome.

“We had a great battle going on, but unfortunately me taking attack mode just before the full course yellow didn’t really help at the end,” Frijns said. “It’s the kind of gamble you take in racing, but [finishing] eventually on the podium in P2 after such a difficult day yesterday, I’d definitely sign up for that.”

The day had started in dramatic fashion when the previous day’s runner-up Edoardo Mortara of RokiT Venturi Racing was involved in a serious accident after his throttle locked and he could not use his breaks. After crashing into a barrier he was taken to hospital where he underwent scans.

Thankfully, the Swiss driver was well enough to return to the Diriyah circuit and despite a desire to take part, in the end he had to sit the race out.

“I’m very grateful it was not more serious,” Mortara said.

“It was not a great feeling, it’s feeling that I’d like actually to forget,” he added. “I felt a little bit like a passenger, there was nothing I could do, no breaks any more and I just went into the wall. To be frank with you I thought that was pretty much the end of for me. Not a nice feeling.”

Frijns, having started 17th from the grid on day one, was in pole position with Sergio Sette Camara (DRAGON/PENSKE AUTOSPORT) in second. Bird, who had collided with Alex Lynn on Friday, and Tom  Blomqvist of NIO 333 Formula E Team were third and fourth in row two.

For the viewers, it provided an extra excitement with most of the favourites, and leading finishers from the first race, relegated to the back of the grid.

Sette Camara’s poor start allowed Bird to overtake him on the first turn, and as the race’s 45 minutes (plus one lap) ticked down the front two started to pull away from the chasing pack.

By lap eight Bird was only 0.500 sec behind Frijns, with a gap of over two seconds behind the Briton. Within two laps, Bird was leading, but by activating his attack mode, Frijns regained the lead on lap 14.

Halfway through the race Jean-Eric Vergne of DS TECHEETAH, moved into third place with eyes on challenging the front two, but a Full Course Yellow (FCY), rather than a safety car, meant that he could not make up the 4-second difference between him and Bird.

A battle was developing in third and fourth when reigning champion António Félix da Costa almost collided with teammate Vergne, allowing Frijns and Bird - themselves exchanging the lead several times - to maintain their lead with 15 minutes left.

But with 28 laps gone and over eight minutes left, the first safety car of the day came out after Maximilian Gunther (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) crashed into Alex Lynn, and in doing so wiped away the gaps. 

There would be no restart and the race was concluded with Bird in the lead, and Frijns, Vergne, da Costa behind him.

After the previous day’s drama, it was an underwhelming end to the opening weekend of the Formula E season.


Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row
Updated 27 February 2021

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row
  • Al-Baltan also fined $10,660 after dispute with Al-Nassr president Safwan Al-Suwaiket

LONDON: While all is going well for Al-Shabab at the top of the Saudi Pro League, the club have been hit by twin bans following a racism row that erupted at a Feb.13 clash with Al-Nassr and shows little sign of stopping.

On Friday, the Saudi Arabia Football Federation’s (SAFF) Discipline and Ethics Committee issued club President Khaled Al-Baltan with a ban from all sporting activity for two months and a $10,660 fine for his role in an altercation with Al Nassr’s Hussein Abdulghani during a league meeting between the two Riyadh teams that ended 4-0 to Al-Shabab.

While Al-Shabab refused to comment when contacted by Arab News, Al-Nassr president, Safwan Al-Suwaiket quickly made his displeasure known on Friday, complaining that the penalties given to Al-Shabab were too light.

“Verbal abuse, insults, slander and public defamation, damaging personal reputation, inciting public opinion and insulting Saudi sport and in the end a very light penalty,” he wrote on social media, also suggesting that the club may take the matter to the courts.

Reports in Saudi Arabia suggest that Al-Suwaiket could face punishment for his comments as the fallout from the incident looks set to drag on.

The original issue started near the end of the league clash earlier this month.

As the team's Brazilian winger Sebastian Junior was being substituted, an animated Abdulghani could be seen shouting and making gestures at the player, known as ‘Seba’ to go away and the two had to be separated by officials.

While it is unclear what Abdulghani said - the legend of Saudi Arabian football with over 130 international appearances was wearing a mask - as he gesticulates towards the Brazilian, up in the mostly empty stands, television footage showed Al-Baltan shouting, “This is Saudi Arabia, we don’t call people monkeys in this country. Shame on you.”

Al-Nassr quickly released a statement denying that any racist comments had been made.

“We stand behind our executive manager, Hussein Abdulghani, in the face of these false allegations,” the club said.

The match report backed up Al-Nassr’s account according to SAFF despite the evidence given from Al-Shabab players and officials at the hearing. “The report received by the committee from match referee Turki Al-Khudair, and the match observer did not include a recording of a racist utterance from Hussein Abdulghani against Seba,” SAFF said.

Al-Baltan was punished for the language used towards an official from another team and will now miss a vital period in the season as Al-Shabab, five points clear at the top, look to win a first title since 2012.

While Abdulghani was cleared of racism, he also received a ban and a fine for his part in the melee.

To make matters worse for Al-Shabab, Seba was also banned for two games and fined $53,000 for his comments on social media that were seen by the committee, as stirring up public opinion. Al-Shabab were also fined the same amount.

Al-Shabab can take another step towards the championship on Sunday as they travel to take on lowly Damac while Al-Hilal in second take on Al-Fateh.


Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win
Updated 27 February 2021

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win
  • A 3-0 loss adds to Sharjah’s woes as Baniyas keep the pressure on in UAE’s heated title race

A few weeks from now, one team will celebrate a historic Arabian Gulf League title. Dates for the final five matchweeks of the remaining eight are yet to be announced, but whenever and wherever the coveted trophy will be lifted, the winning side will look back at the night of Friday, Feb. 26 as one that has reshaped their 2020-21 campaign.

For now, it’s Al-Jazira who are smiling.

First, there is Sharjah’s woes. Despite hitherto leading the table, the reigning champions have looked a shadow of the side that took the UAE by storm to win their first league title in a quarter of a century in 2018-19. The subsequent season was declared null and void, disrupted by the pandemic, keeping the trophy in Sharjah for a further 12 months.

Mastermind Abdulaziz Al-Anbari remains at the helm. A local lad who had pulled the strings in midfield as Sharjah won the 1995-96 title, he returned as manager two decades later to transform a mid-table squad into the most potent counter-attacking unit in the country and become the first man to win the UAE league title as a player and as a manager.

Less than two years on, he was left to watch his legacy crumble in a game he missed through illness. A 3-0 demolition at home by Al-Jazira on Friday made it five games without a win for Al-Anbari’s Sharjah, his side’s poor run culminating in the loss of the top spot that they had made effectively theirs since the beginning of the season.

Momentum cannot be created nor destroyed, but only changed through the action of forces. Isaac Newton might as well have been talking about the 2020-21 Arabian Gulf League title race. For that every bit of momentum lost by Sharjah was picked up by their Friday visitors Al-Jazira.

They may not have been present in the stands on a night to remember for the Pride of Abu Dhabi at Sharjah Stadium, but the Al-Jazira faithful were indeed the most vocal on social media as they felt the tide turning to their side in the pursuit for glory.

The stars finally aligned for manager Marcel Keizer. Young defender Mohammed Rabi powered in an early header for his first senior goal. The Dutchman’s high-press system saw his compatriot Brandley Kuwas, a January recruit from Al-Nasr, win the ball deep into the opposition half and supply talisman Ali Mabkhout who made it 2-0 before the break.

Not even a red card for midfielder Abdullah Ramadan could stop Al-Jazira’s rampant display, and the top spot was signed, sealed and delivered to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium as Mabkhout slotted home from the spot in added time for his 17th goal of the season.

By all measures, Friday night was telling of the two clubs and their contrasting trajectories. For every time Sharjah’s Caio Lucas and Saif Rashid attempted an outrageous skill only to lose the ball in their own half, there was a spell of swift, intricate passing and coordinated pressing by Al-Jazira’s well-drilled midfield. For every moment of frustrated Igor Coronado solo runs, there was a sharp exchange of positions by Mabkhout and his protege-turned-teammate Zayed Al Ameri.

Then there are the Sky Blues of Baniyas: Quietly going about their business as they have done all season, and in the process creeping into the title conversation with their 36 points placing them at third, just four behind Al-Jazira.

A decade has passed since their best league campaign; a season in which they finished runners-up behind none other than Al-Jazira. Countless managers and foreign players have passed through the revolving door at Al-Shamkha Stadium on the outskirts of the capital Abu Dhabi. There has been relegation then instant promotion, a new ambitious project and finally a season where they flew under the radar, appearing almost out of nowhere to book a place on the table for a game of cards for which they looked the unlikeliest of invitees.

On Friday, Baniyas made light work of relegation strugglers Ajman. Young Palestinian forward Ahmed Abunamous put them in front before Brazilian marksman Joao Pedro kept the pressure on Mabkhout at the top of the scoring charts with his fourteenth goal of the season to secure a third Baniyas win in their last four games.

An extended winning run, as well as other results going their way, could yet see Al-Nasr — leaders earlier in the season but fourth-placed now — make their way into the title charge.

They sit seven points adrift of the top, but realistically it will not be until after the matchweek 23 clash between Sharjah and Baniyas, four games before the curtain falls on the season, that we will have a much clearer picture of who the next champions of the UAE will be in a season where the traditional powerhouses of Al-Ain, Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Wahda were brushed aside by a brave new contingent of competitors.


The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 27 February 2021

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix
  • 24 drivers ready to battle again after Dutchman Nyck de Vries won Formula E’s first ever night race

RIYADH: Formula E returns to Riyadh later today for the second leg of the Diriyah-E-Prix double-header in the opening round of season 7, following an electric opening race last night which saw a maiden victory for Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries.

Completing the podium, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, was Edoardo Mortara of ROCKiT Venturi Racing, who finished second, and Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans in third.

“What an incredible race. Once again Diriyah has made sporting history with another ‘first’ and I’m so pleased Saudi Arabia has proudly opened this wonderful series to start Season 7,” said Prince Khalid.

“It’s a championship that aligns so perfectly with our future vision and commitment to sustainability as a nation. You can tell the drivers love the track and I’ve no doubt millions around the world have been thoroughly entertained.”

Speaking of his podium finish, Mortara revealed the risk in overtaking Pascal Wehrlein of TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team.

“When I am in the car doing these moves my heart stops,” the Swiss driver said.

“Wehrlein moved at the last minute so I had to go on the left as I was quite surprised. It was the key moment of the race and I was really happy to survive the chaos and finish second. It's exciting.”

He also spoke of his third experience of the Diriyah track at the world UNESCO heritage site.

“You can see that the organizers have put in a lot of time to get the track ready and it’s a pleasure coming to race in an historical place like Diriyah,” Mortara added.

“The effort they’ve put in to host the first ever night race is amazing.”

Once again, 24 drivers from 12 teams will take to the track this evening, and while race two, like the first one, will also be held without spectators, fans still can still catch the action live on KSA Sports TV or the channel’s Twitter page @riyadiyatv.

“Due to COVID we have all faced many challenges over the last year.,” Prince Khalid added.

“There have been dark moments and many felt staging the race would be impossible. But tonight, the light has shone bright and it is clear, the Kingdom is not slowing down. It is a sign of hope and a positive step forward that shows what can be achieved if we work together to overcome all obstacles.”

The Diriyah E-Prix signifies a significant milestone in the history of Formula E while building on Saudi Arabia’s continued momentum in hosting motorsport competitions.

Despite the challenges of COVID, 2021is set to see the country host four FIA sanctioned events.

Following the season opener for Formula E this weekend, April will see the first ever Extreme E race take to the breathtaking Al Ula, before the country plays host to its inaugural Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in early December.

Then finally closing out the year with the return of Formula E Season 8.


Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’

Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’
Updated 27 February 2021

Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’

Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’

LONDON: Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho said on Friday that being under pressure was “like oxygen” for him as he seeks to turn around the club’s terrible Premier League form.
Mourinho’s job has come under scrutiny after a run of five Premier League defeats in six games left them ninth in the table — nine points outside the top four.
But the Portuguese, whose team topped the table in December, said it was just part of the job.
“The problem is if you don’t have pressure,” he said. “I felt in trouble when I was at home and did not have pressure for a few months.
“That’s the problem. It comes like oxygen, it is our life; I don’t think there is any coach in the world without objectives or any kind of pressure.
“You just get used to it and also used to the way the press is at the time, you just have to adapt to it.”
Mourinho said earlier this week that he was confident he would be remembered for the right reasons at Spurs despite overseeing a collapse in their form during his first full season in charge.
The poor run in the league is unprecedented for the 58-year-old in a long and mostly successful managerial career at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
However, Tottenham’s season could still be saved by success in cup competitions.
Spurs will meet Dinamo Zagreb in the last 16 of the Europa League after completing an 8-1 aggregate win over Austrian side Wolfsberg this week.
Mourinho’s men also face Premier League leaders Manchester City in the League Cup final in April — looking to win their first silverware
in 13 years.