RIYADH: A new route itinerary for the fourth edition of the world-famous Dakar rally in Saudi Arabia has been announced.
The first round of the FIA-FIM World Rally-Raid Championship will take place across the Kingdom’s desert terrain from Dec. 31 to Jan. 15, 2023.
The route will take participants from the beaches of the Red Sea to the sands of the Arabian Gulf in Dammam. The crossing of the country will be a complete tour as the 14 stages will first lead the Dakar to the northwestern mountain regions before heading to the deep southeast for a three-day journey through the dunes of the Empty Quarter.
The new start format will accommodate the entire Dakar caravan during the final technical and administrative checks, which will take place mainly at the Castellet circuit in France at the end of November. The structures have been redesigned for the occasion to include entertainment and provide areas for conviviality and interaction. The Sea Camp concept consists of taking over a piece of desert by the sea.
The 2023 Dakar will be characterized by its length, with 14 stages plus a prologue for 15 days of competition. The itinerary includes 70 percent of new special stages and will be the densest rally format in its modern era.
The overwhelming majority of the special stages are close to 450 kilometers. The liaison sectors will be shorter, with the finish lines closer to the bivouacs, which will reduce liaison times. In total, with almost 5,000 kilometers of special stages, the latest edition will feature the longest distance of competition since 2014.
In recent years, Dakar competitors have become familiar with the immense region of Saudi territory designated as the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. But forays to the marathon bivouac at Shubeyta in 2020 or loops traced from Wadi Ad Dawasir only revealed a minuscule portion of the vast desert. Due to improved route communications with neighboring Oman, a much deeper immersion has been made possible, allowing for a bivouac to be set up in the extreme eastern region of Saudi Arabia. The pilots will also have to cope with the challenge of a marathon stage during the three days in the Empty Quarter.
With 140 vehicles, the second edition of the Dakar Classic was a great success and highlighted the significant differences in potential between the older cars and those from the late 1990s. As a result, an additional speed group, called H0, has been added to define lower average speeds adapted to less-powerful cars.
There will be two new challenges, namely the authentic co-driver challenge for vehicles that enter without modern regularity instruments, and the iconic classic club for original vehicles that participated in the Dakar in the 20th century, thus excluding all replicas. A selection committee will limit the number of entries to a maximum of 150.
The Dakar saw a decisive step forward in its energy transition in 2022 with the creation of the T1-U category and the spectacular entry of Audi’s hybrid 4x4s, winners of four special stages with Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Swede Mattias Ekstrom, and Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel.
New projects are being developed and progress goes on thanks to the use of biofuels and synthetic fuels that drastically reduce the vehicles’ carbon footprint.