Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

Saudi Arabia plan to stage 'best Dakar Rally that’s ever happened' in 2020

Speaking to The National, Prince Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, says hosting the race is a 'dream come true'

Abduaziz bin Turki Al Saud, Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, speaks during a press conference for the Dakar Rally. AFP
Abduaziz bin Turki Al Saud, Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, speaks during a press conference for the Dakar Rally. AFP

The Saudi Arabian Motor Federation are confident the Dakar Rally 2020 will be the best in the event’s storied history, after the dates and route for next January’s race were confirmed in Al Qiddiya on Thursday.

The kingdom announced earlier this month that it would host for the first time one of motorsport’s marquee events, with the gruelling multi-stage rally now revealed to run from January 5-17, the first race of a 10-year agreement.

Billed as “Chapter Three” following the rally-raid’s 30 years in Africa and 11 in South America, the Saudi event will begin in Jeddah, pass through Riyadh and finish in Al Qiddiya, just south of the capital. More than 300 entrants are expected to compete in the 10-stage, 9,000-kilometre race.

Speaking to The National, Prince Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, said. “It means a lot to host such an event - the biggest, the toughest ever - in Saudi Arabia. It’s a dream that came true for us as enthusiasts of rallying and motorsports. We think we have a lot to offer to Dakar and also to the region.

“It’s going to be a new challenge and adventure for the drivers that participate in Dakar Rally, to bring them to a new place, a place that has different terrains and difficulties. So it’s all in one for them to come here and explore Saudi Arabia.”

The Dakar Rally adds to Saudi’s growing sports portfolio, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” initiative. Within the past year in motorsports alone, Saudi has staged the 2018 Race of Champions and, in December, the season-opener in Formula E.

“We hope we have a successful event,” Prince Khalid said. “We managed to pull off Formula E quite well - we succeeded in that. So the next challenge is bringing Dakar to Saudi, which is a big challenge.

"But with all the support we get from the government and the General Sports Authority, with also the help from the other entities in Saudi Arabia, we are sure we’re going to deliver what we promised the Crown Prince: that we want Dakar to be the best Dakar that’s ever happened. It’s a tough task for us, but I’m sure we can do well.”

Asked what it would take to achieve that, Prince Khalid added: “It’s about management, organising everything from some time ahead. You consult the best. You bring the best to help you.

“As I said, we have all the support from the government. They gave us all the things we need to organise this rally, so failure is not an option. We have everything to make this the best rally and, hopefully we will see each other after the podium in January, and then maybe you can judge.”

Carlos Sainz, the two-time Dakar champion and a prominent figure in motorsport, said the new collaboration between organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and Saudi provided the event with a necessary shot in the arm following this year’s difficulties in Peru.

“It’s a great opportunity for ASO, a great opportunity for Saudi Arabia as well, a joint venture and a welcome new challenge,” said Sainz, champion in 2010 and again in 2018. “The country itself has all the ingredients to build and to make a fresh new chapter in Dakar, and for ASO it’s perfect also to look for a new challenge. So altogether it’s a very interesting future.

“South America was really, really good, but towards the end we had some problems where we couldn’t visit one country or another. Like last time, the race was only in a very small part of Peru.

“For Saudi Arabia also to show the rest of the world its country is fantastic, because Dakar has a lot of supporters. With it being here for two weeks, a lot of places in the world will know about Saudi Arabia.”

Updated: May 1, 2019 01:57 PM

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