The latest epic Dakar Rally adventure is under starter’s orders in Saudi Arabia. Desert racers have come from all over the world to test themselves against the world’s toughest rally. On Sunday, January 5 the first stage of 2020 Dakar takes competitors a mammoth 752 kilometres as they leave Jeddah and head north to Al Wajh.
The excitement in Jeddah since the Dakar Rally arrived has been non-stop. From the pre-race technical checks at the impressive King Abdulaziz Stadium to the party atmosphere of the Saturday night Start Podium at the Dakar Village on the shores of the Red Sea.
The Dakar has come to the Middle East from its first home in Africa, via a magical decade in South America. This third chapter of motorsports’ ultimate test of endurance has invigorated everybody – from multiple champions to rookie racers. Now offroaders in 83 cars, 144 bikes, 46 side-by-sides, 46 trucks and 23 quads will tackle perilous terrain and test their skills to the limit. All of this will happen in a new country, as Saudi Arabia becomes the 30th nation to host the truly international Dakar Rally.
Check in with the Red Bull Desert Wings squad with images and quotes below as they prepare to face 12 stages of unpredictable racing, spread over a daunting distance of 7,856 kilometres.
The 2020 Dakar gets started on Sunday, January 5 in Jeddah and finishes 9,000km later on Friday, January 17 in Al-Qiddiya. Keep up-to-date with the entire Red Bull Desert Wings convoy on Red Bull Motorsports’ social media: Red Bull Motorsport Instagram / Facebook / Twitter / Desert Wings Instagram
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Nasser Al-Attiyah #300: “I would like to thank everybody who has made it possible to bring the Dakar to the Middle East. I’ve now won the Dakar three times and I’ll be going all out to win a fourth. It has long been a dream of mine to see the Dakar come to this region. I hope everybody will enjoy this race.”
Stéphane Peterhansel #302: “25 years ago I came to Saudi Arabia for a motorcycle race and I remember beautiful landscapes. I also came back here last year for a two-day Baja race and the open desert was really impressive. I have no doubt we will have a very interesting race here in Saudi Arabia.”
Kuba Przygonski #303: “Timo (Gottschalk, co-driver) and myself are ready for these new roadbooks that are coming. Sometimes we will not get these roadbooks until shortly before the stage. This means that in some parts we could be driving blind. My experience racing bikes at the Dakar will help with this.”
Giniel De Villiers #304: “It’s always exciting when you’re about to discover new deserts in a new country. Nobody really knows what to expect and we’ll have to adjust as we go along. Our car is feeling good, the team is strong and we’re really looking forward to getting out there.”
Carlos Sainz #305: “It’s true that I’m among the oldest drivers here, but I have lost none of the passion I have for this rally. There is very strong competition in the race this year and I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to set the pace.”
Toby Price #1: “Last year was a big challenge, we started the event with a broken scaphoid bone in the wrist. To carry on and get the win took everything. This time we’re coming in healthy which is great, but also adds pressure. We won with a broken wrist, so now we’re injury-free people expect us to win again.”
Matthias Walkner #2: “I’m feeling quite OK, all my injuries have more or less healed up to 90 percent. The preparation has gone pretty well and now it’s all about a new year, a new challenge and a new country. It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be long, but it’s great to be here.”
Sam Sunderland #3: “As racers we always think about how our form has been in the last few rallies we’ve done. I’ve had a solid 12 months leading into this Dakar and won the World Championship, now I want to carry on that form at the Dakar.”
Laia Sanz #14: “For sure it will be difficult for me to finish inside the Top 10, but I will try. I’m excited to ride with my new Gas Gas team and if everything works perfectly for us then I’m sure we’ll get a result we can all be proud of.”
Luciano Benavides #16: “I’m feeling really good right now, really motivated to ride the first stage. I miss the rally being in South America, but I’m also excited to discover Saudi Arabia. Everything here has been like a dream for me so far.”
Daniel Nosiglia #21: “The past Dakar has been very nice for me and I want to repeat that experience here in Saudi Arabia. It’s an honour for me to be racing with Honda and the aim is to finish inside the Top 10.”
Mohammed Balooshi #36: “I’m very happy to be part of this big change for the Dakar. Maybe if the rally was in South America this year I wouldn’t go, but when it is here I have no excuse not to race. We have 13 tough days ahead of us. To finish each stage will be its own milestone and I’ll take things day by day.”
CS Santosh #50: “The first time I went to Dakar, I had no idea what I was doing. This is actually the first time I’m excited because I’ve been more prepared. This is my first year when I have ridden almost pain-free, finally my body is in a good state.”
Chaleco Lopez #400: “It was great to return to the Dakar last year and win the side-by-side class. This year the level of competition will be even tougher so I’ll need to race a perfect rally if I am going to defend my title.”
Cyril Despres #403: Mike (Horn, co-driver) and me are not junior riders anymore, but I’ve been at the beginning of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Program project. It’s another change for me, after racing bikes and cars. Now I’m a coach who is also in the race. I’m going to do my best to share with these guys what the Dakar Rally is all about.”
Mike Horn #403: “I’m a professional explorer so to be here competing in the most famous and prestigious rally-raid in the world feels great. To be here with the young guys has created a great atmosphere in the team. The moment you stop learning is the moment you become too old. We are here to learn, to compete and to share our experiences with the others.”
Blade Hildebrand #409: “I was on my way home from a race in Reno when I got a call inviting me to test the new OT3 in Morocco. Back then there wasn’t too much information on the car or Red Bull Off-Road Team USA. Now we’re here and it’s all come together, it’s a great feeling.”
Mitch Guthrie Jr. #412: “One of the biggest things about Red Bull Off-Road Team USA is that it’s helping to spread news about the Dakar back in the States. Even on the racing scene back home we don’t really know about the ins and outs of the Dakar. Raising awareness of this great race is something I’m happy to be involved with.”
Eduard Nikolaev #500: “We are in a new country this year, and this means new challenges to meet on each stage. I’m not here to chase any personal glory, everything we do is to help the team be successful. A win for Kamaz is a win for all of us.”
Dmitry Sotnikov #501: “For this Dakar all of our trucks are equipped with automatic transmission. We see serious advantages with this modification, automatic transmission is gaining popularity among all contestants at the rally. We’re always trying to improve our race truck.”
Ignacio Casale #250: “After my win in 2018, I was really tired of the quad. I didn’t want anything to do with it. But 16 months ago, I already wanted to come back. The desire returned. Yamaha sent me a quad, I went to the dunes and I realised that it is still my thing.”