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.

Barcelona look for a Hollywood ending from Messi in Champions League showdown

Updated 13 August 2020

Barcelona look for a Hollywood ending from Messi in Champions League showdown

  • While it is hard to imagine that Barcelona will not improve next season, it’s harder to imagine they will improve sufficiently to win the Champions League next year

DUBAI: The faded film star was taken aback by the suggestion she was past her best, that she “used” to be big.

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small,” Norma Desmond, the character played by Gloria Swanson, famously responded in Billy Wilder’s 1950s Hollywood classic “Sunset Boulevard.”

There’s no suggestion that Lionel Messi is in any way not still a big, indeed the biggest, star in the world of football. But it is tempting to imagine a similar thought must occasionally drift through his mind: I’m still big, it’s the Barcelona team that just got small.

Where he once played the leading role in a superlative cast that included Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Luis Suarez and one of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, David Villa and Neymar, he is now very much a one-man show.

Barcelona’s football, not long ago the envy of the football world, isn’t what it used to be, their tactics often little more than an echo of Argentina’s over the last decade or so: Give the ball to Messi and hope for the best.

It’s been a bad season for Barcelona Football Club.

In a campaign that saw coach Ernesto Valverde replaced by Quique Setien in January, and then disrupted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Barca’s La Liga title was eventually lost with a whimper to an equally dysfunctional Real Madrid side.

Barcelona’s saving grace as ever, and increasingly in the last few years, has been the Argentine genius. And this Champions League run, for now.

Last week, Messi scored a quite stunning goal as Barcelona beat Napoli 3-0 at the Not Camp, and 4-1 on aggregate, in the round of 16. It had all the hallmarks of his greatness, a reminder that at 33 he remains a peerless footballer. Positioning, control, skill, speed, refusal to be taken down, and a stunning finish. A microcosm of Messi’s career.

The win earned Barcelona a quarter-final against Bayern Munich on Friday night, a one-off tie in Lisbon that not many people seem to think the Catalan giants will negotiate successfully. But where there is Messi, there is hope.

One of Cristiano Ronaldo’s last genuine shots at winning the Champions League may have disappeared with Juventus’s exit last week, but Messi could yet pull a rabbit out of hat in this most narrative-bending season. If he does lead Barcelona to a sixth Champions League title, it could go down as his greatest trick yet. And possibly his last great act.

While it is hard to imagine that Barcelona will not improve next season, it’s harder to imagine they will improve sufficiently to win the Champions League in around nine months from now.

For Messi, time is running out. It’s a case of now or never.

Barcelona fans quite rightly rage that, over the last nine years, the greatest footballer of all time between the ages of 24 and 33 has managed only one Champions League win, to add to the two collected as part of Pep Guardiola’s incomparable team in 2009 and 2011. And they are not wrong.

Messi, and the fans, deserve better. The club, however, has been a case study of bad management and recruitment. It’s not that there have been no good players at the club or that money has not been spent. It’s that the money has been spent mindlessly, and the players have not been integrated into a coherent system under the managers that have followed Luis Enrique, who left the club two years after achieving the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2014-15.

That season, with the dream frontline of Messi, Neymar and Suarez conquering all before them, goes down as the club’s last truly great campaign.

Enrique's final season, 2016-17, saw the club’s greatest-ever European comeback, the scarcely believable 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain, which overturned a 4-0 first-leg loss in the round of 16. But the fabled “remontada” proved a mirage, Barcelona losing to Juventus in the quarter-final 3-0 on aggregate.

Valverde did manage two La Liga titles, but it was the Champions League that Barcelona fans, and above all Messi, really craved, and watching Real Madrid claim three titles since their own last win has been excruciating.

The Champions League collapses against Roma, in 2017-18, and Liverpool the following season, will stand out as Barcelona’s greatest failures on the pitch, but the decline and mismanagement had already set in off it after Luis Enrique’s departure.

The big money signings of Ousmane Dembele at €105 ($124) and Philippe Coutinho at €120 have been, respectively, disappointing and disastrous. Other incoming players, like Paulinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Arturo Vidal and Yerry Mina, have not been of the required standard. And those who have, like Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, joined the party just as the drinks had run out.

Barcelona will certainly need some sort of overhaul in the brief close season before the start of the 2020-21 La Liga season, in terms of playing staff and, in all likelihood, on the management side too.

But long-term planning will have to wait. 

For now, it’s all about Friday’s shootout against an excellent Bayern Munich side and the desperate attempt to salvage this season.

Should Barcelona overcome the German champions, they will most likely face club legend Guardiola’s formidable Manchester City team in the semi-final, and after that potentially Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain and Neymar in the final.

This story could yet have an unexpected happy ending. But it’s going to need an Oscar-winning performance from you know who.