Saudi veteran ready for ‘real Dakar adventure’

Turki Al-Sudairy will mark his fifth time racing in the Dakar Rally when Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 starts on Sunday. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 03 January 2020

Saudi veteran ready for ‘real Dakar adventure’

  • Turki Al-Sudairy swaps rally car for high-powered truck as 12-day desert challenge looms

JEDDAH: Saudi driver Turki Al-Sudairy has switched effortlessly from cars to trucks in a rally career going back almost two decades — and Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020, which starts on Sunday, will be no different.

The Dakar veteran will drive a MAN TGS truck for the 42nd edition of the world’s most demanding motorsport event, which will run from Jan. 5-17. 

Al-Sudairy explained his switch from the Mitsubishi Evo, the car he drove with Algerian co-driver Sameer bin Bekhti in 2008 when he was the only Saudi to compete in the rally. 

“The topography and unique terrain of the Saudi desert is more suited to a truck, which has more power than a car,” he told Arab News in a phone interview.

The 39-year-old driver also wanted to strengthen the few Saudi entries in the truck division, where he will be joined by countrymen Ibrahim Al-Muhanna and Tariq Alrammah.

The Dakar Rally is one of the world’s toughest motor sports events, but Al-Sudairy is confident of making it all the way to the Qiddiya finish line. A podium finish would be a bonus, but he likes his chances.

“The challenge is to get your car or truck to the finish line with the least amount of damage and the best results,” he said.

“We’ve done a lot to prepare for this rally — working out regularly, keeping in shape, and preparing the vehicles with mechanical run throughs, readying the team.

“My experience in the 2020 race will be different from my previous Dakar rallies because it is in my home country. The race here will resemble the ones in Africa in terms of terrain.

“I competed in Africa and Latin America in 2013. The Kingdom’s environment resembles the original Dakar Rally. The vast Saudi desert is similar to those in Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria and Mali, for example,” he said.

The topography and unique terrain of the Saudi desert is more suited to a truck, which has more power than a car.

Turki Al-Sudairy, Saudi veteran rally driver

“This will be my fifth time in the rally. I raced in Africa in 2005, 2007 and 2008, the same route. But after it was canceled because of terrorist threats, I stopped until 2013 for the Latin American version (through Peru, Argentina and Chile),” Al-Sudairy said of his Dakar experience. 

Al-Sudairy is a passionate rally driver, but refuses to be labeled a professional.

“I love adventure. I’m treating this Dakar Rally as an adventure as well as a race. I’m not a professional, but I will try to get a high score,” he said. 

Al-Sudairy said that the biggest challenge facing drivers in the Kingdom will be the fine desert sand.

“The sand is different in each region,” he said. “Sand in the western region is different from the one in Hail or the Empty Quarter, which I think will be most difficult because it’s fine sand.

“I drive a big truck, so negotiating the narrow passages in mountain areas will be a challenge. It requires skill and caution; any mistake could cause a problem.” 

Al-Sudairy said that the Saudi event will be especially exciting for foreign drivers and those who previously raced in Africa, a group that makes up almost half the Dakar field.

“For them, the race will be like a walk down memory lane,” he said.

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 12 August 2020

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.