JEDDAH: As the excitement builds ahead the start of the 42nd Dakar Rally, fans have been making the most of the chance to learn more about the event and the vehicles and drivers who are taking part.
The 2020 rally marks the first time it has been staged in the Middle East. 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
Before then, crowds of fans have descended on Jeddah Corniche, where the Dakar race village has been set up to provide a wide range of entertaining and educational attractions and activities to get everyone up to speed on this unique motorsport challenge.
The Dakar Museum features some of the vehicles that will be taking part, along with other displays and information about the history of the world-famous event. Nearby, there are rows of parked vehicles undergoing final checks and inspections to make sure that they are fit to race.
There is also a special children’s section, where youngsters can ride on fancy miniature vans or race remote-controlled cars in the sand. For the grown-ups, there is a stage where local DJs and musicians perform throughout the evening. For more active fans there are some fun sporting activities, including soccer challenges. And, of course, there are enough food and beverage options to help restore flagging energy levels.
The soccer competitions were hosted by former world champion freestyle footballer Sean Garnier. “It’s my first time in Saudi Arabia and I’m really surprised by the way people enjoy the show and interact,” he said.
Entrepreneur Abdul Aziz and Ibtihal, a student, who visited the village together, said they were surprised by the scale of the event and how well organized it is.
“Some of these cars I’ve never seen in my life,” said Ibtihal. “It’s a perfectly orchestrated event.”
Al-Hazmi, a long-time fan of the Dakar Rally, said: “The organization is top notch but I wish they’d let people sit in the cars and enjoy rides as part of the experience in the future.” He added that he will be cheering for Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi.
Eduardo Ballinan and his wife Wilma, who moved to the Kingdom from the Philippines 15 years ago, said they cannot believe an event such as the Dakar Rally is taking place in Saudi Arabia.
“(Vehicles) like the KTM and one of the BMW models have never been seen here in Saudi Arabia. It’s huge,” said Ballinan, who runs a motorbike club with some friends.
The Dakar Village in Jeddah is open until Jan. 4 from 4 p.m. to midnight. The 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.