The countdown to the major battle on the tracks of the Saudi desert continued in Jeddah as top pilots came together to speak to the media ahead of Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020, which gets underway on Sunday.
The expected major players during the two-week challenge, which runs until 17 January, made their appearance at a press conference in the presence of HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki AlFaisal, Chairman of the General Sports Authority and HRH Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Abdullah Al Faisal, President of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, to give their thoughts about what awaits them in Saudi Arabia, with a unanimous feeling of excitement at discovering a new desert and be part of an adventure like never before.
The stage of the press conference was brimming with champions, with the tittle holders of bike, car, truck and SSV categories in presence, accompanied amongst others by Dakar veterans Stephane Peterhansel, Nani Roma and Carlos Sainz as well as two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso and Saudi rally champion Yazeed Al Rajhi.
“I was here 25 years ago, and the landscape is incredible. It looks like Africa and that brings back good memories for me. I think there is a massive potential to have an interesting race,” said 13-time winner Stephane Peterhansel.
In a new country and on the unique terrain of Saudi Arabia, where Dakar Rally starts its Chapter 3, there is a room for upsets. “The Dakar always brings you surprises. In an [unexplored] country [like Saudi Arabia] you need to have an open mind for surprises,” said Spanish Dakar veteran Sainz.
His fellow Spaniard Roma echoed the sentiment of excitement, saying: “Everything is new, I’m really happy. I’m here to fight and I’m excited to discover this country. If I can make it to the end I will be thrilled. To be part of this race is really great.”
After finishing sixth last year, home favourite Al Rajhi will relish his chances of going all the way on home soil. “I’m very excited to welcome the Dakar in my country. I want to win this race. I must do a perfect job [if I were to win]. Everybody hopes but nobody knows what will happen.”
“[Saudi Arabia] is a big country. You might have the feeling [of the terrain] but you can’t know everything. We came to win; win or nothing!” added Al Rajhi who finished sixth last year,” Al Rajhi added.
Following on from the formalities completed by the riders, drivers and crews at the facilities of King Abdullah Sports City stadium, where the technical inspections have been in full swing over the last two days, the entire Dakar family gathered for the traditional pre-race briefing, where the final instructions were given to the competitors.
Extending over a total distance of 7856 kilometres, Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 pilots must navigate their way through 5097 kilometres of special off-road sections, the longest in the history of Dakar Rally. The race gets underway in Jeddah before drivers and crews navigate their way through the fast and winding dunes and stones for 752km.
The challenge continues up north along the coast for nearly 900km through the Red Sea Project till it reaches the futuristic megacity of Neom, where the marvellous journey reaches its highest point at an altitude of 1,400 metres amid a series of canyons and mountains.
A combination of sandy stretches and gravel await Dakar’s thrill-seeking pilots as they cruise next through 676km of the formidable trip from Neom to Al Ula in Dakar’s fourth stage before the sandy hills of Ha’il put the navigation skills of competitors to the test while descending south onto Riyadh.
A rest day in the capital will be followed by Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020’s longest stage of 741km as the route takes a turn to the west in the centre of the kingdom’s enormous desert before looping back towards Haradh in the eastern governorate of Al Ahsa, marking the entrance to the Empty Quarter and building up to the grand finale in the future entertainment, sports and cultural destination of Qiddiya, where the winner will be crowned on the final podium. Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will see pilots drive specially modified vehicles, trucks, quad, SxS, and motorbikes, designed to handle 12 stages of various challenging terrains of the vast Saudi desert.