JEDDAH: Preparations for the famous Dakar Rally have got underway at Jeddah Corniche’s parc ferme with race teams fine-tuning vehicles for the start of the event on Sunday.
The area was buzzing with the sound of engines as mechanics and drivers made last-minute tweaks and test runs in readiness for scrutineering checks.
Legendary Peruvian motorcyclist and 10-time Dakar Rally participant, Carlo Vellutino (racer No. 64), spoke to Arab News at his X-Raids team tent about his excitement at once again taking part in the competition, being held in the Kingdom for the first time.
“I feel very happy to be here in Saudi Arabia, it’s a new challenge and I feel very proud to participate in a place that’s far from my country.
“I just want the first few days to get by. I’m not really intimidated by the terrain as Peru has a lot of sand and sand dunes, which makes it comfortable,” he said.
“From a riding preference, I dislike the rocky terrain but what excites me most and grabs my attention is being in a new country, in a new territory, a new culture and having the chance to participate in the Dakar Rally excites me most.”
Chilean motorcyclist and rookie driver, Alejandro Aros (No. 122), was also looking forward to the rally experience. The 47-year-old, who began his motorcycling career late in life, told Arab News: “It’s exciting to be here (in Saudi Arabia).
“I think that the Dakar Rally is returning to its origins, to explore the unexplored areas, a vast and open area. I believe it’ll be like the original African spirit as it was when held in Africa.
“I began racing at 41 years old and I’ve participated in a lot of rallies in Chile and Peru and also in two world championships. These experiences have helped me embrace Dakar Rally,” said Aros.
Drivers could also be seen test-driving their vehicles in the streets of Jeddah as the countdown to the big race began.
After 10 years in South America, the desert race will be staged in the Kingdom from Jan. 5 to 17, setting off from Jeddah and passing through locations such as NEOM, Riyadh and Qiddiya.
French quad racer Axel Dutrie (No. 259) from the Drag’On rally team was returning to Dakar for the fourth time after running into difficulties in the past two races. He told Arab News: “The terrain in the mountains and deserts are very different but it’s very exciting to be here.”
The 42-year-old began driving quads at the age of six and started his professional career when he was 14. The son of biker, Guy Dutrie, racing is in his blood.
“I don’t think there’s much difference in Saudi Dakar from other Dakar races. Though maybe last year was a bit different in Peru as it was mostly sand, but maybe Saudi is nicer when it comes to weather and terrain. However, generally the tracks are similar,” he said.
The parc ferme area where the race vehicles are gathered is part of the Dakar Village visitor-entertainment hub. It includes a Dakar museum, a virtual reality station, stunt shows and activities for children.
For the next three days, the 6,000-square-meter site will also provide the base for the passing and presentation of all Dakar competitors and their cars, bikes, trucks, quads and side-by-side vehicles.