JEDDAH: Drivers are ready and set to hit the dunes of one of the world’s newest and unexplored territories in the land of rally racing, as experienced drivers and rookies have come to test their skills, endurance and perseverance.
Talal Al-Bader, Saudi Arabia’s youngest rally driver to participate in Dakar, is set for an exciting journey that will test the young man’s focus, skill and will.
After allowing Arab News to check out TB Motorsports’ gear and trucks that were parked at the Parc Ferme, you can sense his excitement at the mere mention of Dakar.
“Participating in a rally that has this much legacy and heritage, with many years of experience, is sometimes overwhelming but very exciting as you get to meet the people behind the rally, competitors, make new friends, and it’s very exciting on all fronts,” he said.
With 6,000 km of training across the Kingdom’s varied terrain — an advantage to the Saudi drivers as the deserts are literally their backyards — Al-Bader has his eye on finishing the race with the least number of mistakes, and gaining enough experience for years to come.
“My passion for motorsports from a young age was a drive, but I wanted more as I grew,” he said. “The announcement of the Saudi Rally Championship and Dakar Rally 2020 coming to the Kingdom was what pushed me, and I saw it as a sign. I wanted to do this for so long professionally, and now I have an opportunity.”
Staying true to its founding principles, Dakar allows amateurs to rub shoulders and battle it out with professionals, many of whom have years of experience in various rallies across the globe.
Al-Bader’s navigator, long-time rally driver and navigator Ali Mirza from the UAE, is accompanying the young rookie on the grueling 12-day journey across Saudi Arabia’s vast lands.
Mirza has had years of experience in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and will be providing Al-Bader with the proper guidance to achieve a win.
“We expect many surprises to come. I’ve done many rallies in the area. The first 35 percent of Dakar will be a bit rough,” said Mirza.
“There will be valleys and mountains where surprises could happen, unexpected circumstances not found in road books. We have to be careful and vigilant.”
The side-by-side vehicle is the custom-made Can-Am Maverick, built by the BBR Motorsports company in France.
The duo will be competing in the T-3 prototype class, which gives competitors more flexibility in tuning the vehicles.
“The car we have for the local rallies is heavy duty and much stronger. For Dakar, we had to adjust the car slightly and we need to be more cautious,” said Al-Bader.
“The chassis and frame itself are built by BBR’s founder and team manager Loic Bonnevie. It uses a stock Can-Am X3 engine and transmission, otherwise everything is built to spec by team BBR,” Al-Bader added.
“It’s equipped with the latest Donerre suspension, a French company specializing in heavy duty Rally Suspension, and of course the Raptor body to cover it all up.”
Mirza said the Empty Quarter, the last stages of Dakar, will be the toughest as many might encounter unexpected situations, such as large sand dunes. Even the type of sand can make a difference.
But the duo believe that with their combined effort and experience, Dakar is a stepping stone to what is yet to come.
“Talal and I work in a way that’s best suited for us,” said Mirza. “We started off as friends-turned-partners in this field. This is family, and we’re in this together to reach the last stage.”