HAIL: As the dust settled after Dakar Rally competitors on Thursday roared into Hail, there were fears that the world-famous race could overshadow the Saudi city’s own prestigious motoring event.
Hail, and its population of more than 1.2 million people, has played host to the Hail Nissan International Rally — the first of its kind to be staged in Saudi Arabia — since 2006.
The international event, run in the Kingdom’s northern desert, was approved by the Paris-based International Automobile Federation (FIA) in 2008 and over the years has been a major tourism money-spinner for the Hail region.
But there were mixed feelings among motor racing fans in the city over the future of the event in Hail when up against the competition of the Dakar Rally.
Private sector worker, Mansour Al-Khateeb, told Arab News that the Dakar Rally would add value to Hail’s international race.
“When the competitors come here and see the attractive landscape of the Nafud Desert, they won’t hesitate to take part in the Hail rally in its future editions, especially if they know that it has become an international racing event.”
Al-Khateeb added that Hail’s 1,300-km rally had gained global popularity through the participation of a large number of local and international contestants.
“In addition to the FIA, the Hail rally organizers have also succeeded in getting unlimited support from various local authorities including the General Sports Authority (GSA) and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.”
He pointed out that the Dakar Rally was an addition to the city and would serve as an important advertising campaign for Hail on different levels.
But Abdurrahman Al-Shammari, a retired Health Ministry employee, felt the Dakar event could represent a threat to the future of the Hail rally. “I fear Dakar occurring in Hail could negatively influence the popularity of the Hail rally on an international level.” He suggested the Hail rally should be part of the Dakar in one of its stages — a race within a longer rally, especially with the two competitions taking place in the same period of the year.
“Top local drivers are taking part in the Dakar, and this can affect their participation in the Hail rally. Unless the officials of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) discuss this idea or a similar one with the Dakar organizers, the Hail rally is feared to gradually lose its glow,” Al-Shammari added.