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.

Amaala lift champion trophy in Saudi Arabia’s first-ever desert polo tournament

Updated 19 January 2020

Amaala lift champion trophy in Saudi Arabia’s first-ever desert polo tournament

  • Amaala earned the bragging rights as the 2020, and inaugural, AlUla Desert Polo champions

JEDDAH: Renowned Argentine polo player Nacho Figueras scored all his side’s goals as Amaala hammered out an emphatic 7-3 victory over host team AlUla to win the Kingdom’s first-ever desert polo tournament on Saturday at AlUla UNESCO heritage site.

Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki bin Faisal, chairman of the General Sports Authority, presented the trophy to Amaala after the final.

The event forms part of Winter at Tantora festival, featuring international polo players, who had the experience of playing on compacted desert sand instead of grass amid the stunning surroundings at AlUla.

The Royal Commission of AlUla organized the three-day tournament in cooperation with the newly formed Saudi Polo Federation.

In winning the tournament, Amaala earned the bragging rights as the 2020, and inaugural, AlUla Desert Polo champions.

Players from all over the world took part, including team members from the world famous La Dolfina polo outfit from Argentina, including Adolfo Cambiaso, Pelon Stirling and Pablo Mac Donough.

In the match for third place, Al Nahla Bentley defeated Team Richard Mille 4-2 with Sheikha Alya Maktoum scoring a hat trick of goals.

Figueras said: “It’s an amazing place with an amazing history, an amazing heritage and an amazing first tournament for the Saudi Polo Federation. I’m very honored to be here and I’m delighted that we were able to win.

“This country is going through a transformation and there are amazing years to come.”

Mac Donough added: “For us it was a completely new place; polo-wise Saudi Arabia wasn’t something we were doing before. Having the chance to come to such an amazing country and having the chance to play a tournament and promote the sport, all this makes us feel very proud and we hope we can continue it.”

Saudi Polo Federation chairman, Amr F. Zedan, who played for Team Richard Mille during the tournament, said: “I see this event as a launching pad for the future. We have big plans for polo in Saudi Arabia that include the establishment of development programs and the construction of facilities to assist in building a polo infrastructure in The Kingdom.”

Amr Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission of AlUla, said: “Our tourism strategy for AlUla has been built around certain anchors — heritage, culture, nature and arts. Equestrianism has always been a key industry for us, and the surroundings here make AlUla one of the best locations to ride horses.”