JEDDAH: With his sights on completing what is known as the most dangerous motor sport in the world, Talal Bader, Saudi Arabia’s youngest Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 driver, is making his way in the racing world.
Founded in 1978, the Dakar Rally is the brainchild of Thierry Sabine and considered motor sport’s ultimate endurance race. For four decades, the Dakar Rally has been the ultimate off-road sport for adventure seekers.
With a passion for motor sport from a young age, Bader dreamt of engines and cars, watching rally races on weekends. His love of cars has driven him to dream big and make great strides in his young career. There have been a few hurdles along the way, but not enough for his love of the sport to waver.
His dream was to become an automotive engineer and work for one of the major car companies — Jaguar or Land Rover. However, Bader changed career paths to become a successful entrepreneur by the age of 19.
“I ventured into the business world, I wanted to get into cars but in a smart way. I was buying, collecting and selling cars and made a profit. I focused on my work and as I was very athletic, I found a balance between my business and workout regimen.”
An aggressive power lifter, a skier and European cross-country cyclist, Bader built his endurance and strength through years of vigorous training, not knowing that this would pay off later.
After a series of events in 2017 and 2018 forced the athlete and entrepreneur to rethink his career path, he found the sign he needed to involve himself again in the world of motorsports.
It was after the announcement of the Saudi Rally Championship and Saudi Dakar 2020 in early 2019 that the young entrepreneur realized what he needed to do. “I asked myself what am I doing with my life? I realized that I really wanted to get into rallying, regardless of the cost,” Bader said.
“At that point I had already researched and made contacts with the right people; it was a very clear sign that this is what I needed to do right now. I bought a car from Ahmed Al-Sabban who has been in the rally game since the late 80s, attended a rallying school in the UK, learned a lot about the limitations of the car from the owner himself, bought a race simulator at home where I would practice for at least an hour a day and started rally-specific training.”
Under the umbrella of the General Sports Authority, Bader was selected by the Leadership Development Institute, which sponsored the young driver. Under Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabia Motor Federation (SAMF) provides support to Saudi drivers to incentivize them to participate in local rallies and push them toward furthering their careers in rally racing.
Under TB Motorsports, an athletics platform and motorsports initiative founded by Bader in July 2019, he competed in four rallies this year in national off-road championships organized by SAMF.
Earlier this month, the 24-year-old was chosen to be one of six Saudi Dakar rally drivers to participate in the event.
Staying true to its founding principles, Dakar allows amateurs to rub shoulders and battle it out with professionals, many of whom have years of experience and training. With Dakar in sight, the young driver’s participation in many of this years’ local rallies and championships has him mentally and physically prepared for the harsh array of environments.
“The rallies themselves that we competed in are part of our training. You have a road book, a co-pilot and there’s a lot of pressure so the rallies themselves play a major role in the training for Dakar,” Bader said.
His training covered 6,000km across varied terrain in Saudi Arabia using a range of vehicles. His choice of vehicle for the rally is the Can-Am X3 Maverick, which he describes as a lightweight vehicle and a good solid car.
“We’re renting the car from a French team, which built the Can-Am from scratch. The car has a very good reputation in Dakar as its very reliable, relatively easy to drive and comfortable compared to other cars,” Bader said. “The only issue is that its top speed is limited to 130 km per hour. It may be a bit tiring when we have long and fast stages and road sections.”
Extending over 7,500 km of Saudi Arabia’s vast and unexplored desert, Bader is confident that he will be able to handle the different terrains with ease.
“It’s not about speed, it’s about finishing the race with the least amount of mistakes possible. You need to make sure you don’t flip over, get stuck, and it is mostly about risk aversion. That is our goal for the first year and once we get that experience and understand what the race is really about, I think in the coming years we’ll be able to compete,” Bader said.