JEDDAH: With the start of the Dakar Rally only days away, fans in Saudi Arabia have been getting their first taste of the excitement and spectacle of the legendary race.
This year marks the first time the event has been staged in the Middle East, with the Kingdom playing host. In a test of endurance as well as speed, 550 competitors from 62 countries — driving cars, motorbikes, quad bikes and trucks — will set off from Jeddah on Sunday to cover 7,500 kilometers during 12 days of racing across the Saudi desert.
Motorsport fans on Thursday flocked to the race village, set up on the Jeddah Corniche, to soak up the atmosphere during the build-up to the start of the race and were clearly delighted to have the chance to attend the legendary event for the first time.
Hamid Haalwani, who was accompanied by his children, said that he has been a big fan of the Dakar Rally for a long time and came to the village to show his kids what it is all about.
“I am very interested in seeing the Dakar this year in Saudi Arabia,” he added. “It is one of the major sporting events in the world; everyone loves the Dakar. I am really proud and pleased to see Saudi Arabia hosting such a mega event.”
Mahir Baqabas, 23, was shopping for souvenir Dakkar Rally T-shirts.
“We had heard about the Dakar before,” he said. “My friends and I decided to come and live the action. We are lucky to have the opportunity to see it.”
Hani Amro was also excited that the rally is being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time.
“It’s not everyday fans have the chance to experience the ultimate thrill of the Dakar rally,” he said. “As a big fan of the event and other famous car races I am really excited to live this moment and to meet the (racers) here in person.
“The Dakar rally is the pinnacle of motorsport events in the world, so there is no better setting to celebrate the (race) than here in our country.”
The Dakar Rally begins on Jan. 5 in Jeddah, and will end in Riyadh on Jan. 17. In the past year, Saudi Arabia has increasingly opened its doors to international tourism and world-class sports and entertainment events, as part of efforts to diversify the nation’s economy.