‘Dakar is in our backyard,’ says two-time Saudi rally participant

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Saudi Arabian rally driver Yasir bin Saidan (No. 324) is taking part in his third Dakar Rally. (Supplied)
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The 43-year-old cross country world champion in the T2 and T3 classes is participating for the third time in the new 2020 Mini Cooper CountryMan for the X-Raid team. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 January 2020

‘Dakar is in our backyard,’ says two-time Saudi rally participant

  • Bin Saidan believes that the most difficult part of the rally will be the first week
  • Dakar Rally is the toughest and most dangerous rally race in the world

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabian rally driver Yasir bin Saidan (No. 324) is back to hit the dunes in the T1 class in the 42nd edition of the Dakar Rally this weekend.

The 43-year-old cross country world champion in the T2 and T3 classes is participating for the third time in the new 2020 Mini Cooper CountryMan for the X-Raid team and is “more than ready” for what lies ahead.

“I’ve participated in many rallies around the world — Kazakhstan, Morocco, the Emirates, Europe as well as touring around Saudi for years. The great thing about Dakar this year is that it’s going to be 65 percent sand and dunes, something which we (Saudis) know more about and excel at,” he told Arab News.

“We’re used to the terrain and it’s part of our nature as drivers. I’ve been hitting the dunes since I was 8-years-old on a quad, we have the skills and the knowledge of the terrain.”

He first participated in the rally in 2014, in the T3 with an RZR 900 Polaris, but dropped out at the fifth stage. He returned to participate in the T2 class in 2016 with a different vehicle, winning third place.

When the ambitious driver found out that Dakar was coming to Saudi Arabia for the first time, he told Arab News how the prospect seemed surreal to him, and that it was the dream of any driver to participate, but there was an added advantage racing in your home country.

“We trained hard and prepared ourselves for this, any smart driver knows what to do, but personally, it’s like hitting two birds with one stone. Dakar in Saudi Arabia, this is home.”

His choice of vehicle for this race is a Sports Utility, and as Bin Saidan explains: “It thick build allows it to endure the difficult terrain.

“Strategy for Dakar is different to other rallies,” he explained. “It’s a grueling 12-day ride, requires a lot of patience and calm. I expect the MiniCooper to be very able in handling the terrain, but it all falls back to me as a driver and my strategy. My aim is to finish the rally in a top position.

“This is in our back yard, our home,” he added,  saying he felt that knowledge would give him an edge over competitors.

Bin Saidan believes that the most difficult part of the rally will be the first week, as drivers will face many mountain ranges and valley terrain.

The Dakar Rally is the toughest and most dangerous rally race in the world, and tests driving skills and endurance.

“Personally, rocks and mountain ranges are going to be difficult — the cars are more susceptible to damage than to sand,” he said. “My years of driving in the Empty Quarter and other areas gained me enough experience. All I need to do is focus, ensure that I drive safe and smart so the car won’t break down and, hopefully, all will be well after that.”


Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

Updated 30 September 2020

Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

  • Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona

MADRID: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will all be hoping to build on their first wins of the season as La Liga heads into its fourth round of games this week.

Here are the five talking points ahead of the midweek fixtures.

For the first time in a long time, Barcelona can enjoy some calm after a 4-0 win over Villarreal in their first match of the season on Sunday.

Lionel Messi scored on his first competitive appearance since attempting to leave in the summer but most exciting was the performance of the 17-year-old Ansu Fati, who scored twice and won a penalty.

Ronald Koeman must decide how to make the most of the teenager, whose maturity on the pitch belies his age and whose body might not be ready to start every week.

But Fati's pace, movement and decision-making are all so impressive it will be difficult to leave him out, as Barca look to build on that win at Celta Vigo on Thursday.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 formation during his team's 3-2 win at Real Betis on Saturday as Luka Jovic was deployed up front alongside Karim Benzema.

But the Serbian striker failed to take his chance, instead enduring another underwhelming night before going off with 18 minutes to go.

It remains to be seen whether Zidane persists with Jovic at home to Real Valladolid on Wednesday, or at all, given Madrid could yet decide to let their €60 million (today $70 million) signing leave before the end of the transfer window.

When Eden Hazard regains fitness, that spot next to Benzema will belong to the Belgian so Jovic's window of opportunity may be small. Time would appear to be running out.

Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona.

So hitting six against Granada on Sunday offered some early encouragement that this season's Atletico, boosted by the arrival of Luis Suarez in attack, can put those scoring problems behind them.

Suarez stole the show after scoring twice on his debut but Joao Felix was arguably the biggest plus for Diego Simeone, who will hope the 20-year-old's excellent display is the start of a more consistent campaign.

Atletico go up against newly promoted Huesca on Wednesday, the kind of game they slipped up in too often last season.

Even defeat by Real Madrid could not knock Real Betis off the top of the table, as Manuel Pellegrini's team enjoy the benefits of a strong start and more games played than the traditional powerhouses three weeks into the season.

But there is cause for optimism longer-term as Betis began with wins against Alaves and Real Valladolid, before matching Madrid for prolonged spells until their opponents pulled away in the second half.

With the likes of Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales and Joaquin, this Betis squad has not lacked for attacking talent but solidity at the back has too often been an afterthought.

Villarreal face Alaves on Wednesday, with pressure already on both coaches. Villarreal have four points from their opening three games but a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday, as well as a draw at home to newly-promoted Huesca means Unai Emery could do with a victory.

Alaves, meanwhile, are second bottom after managing just a point from their first three games, with Pablo Machin seeking a first win at la Ceramica.

Valencia have also made a stuttering start, a draw at home to Huesca on Saturday coming on the back of a surprise loss away at Celta Vigo.

New coach Javi Gracia has already expressed disappointment with the club's summer transfer dealings, meaning credit with the board may be lacking if results do not improve.