The Dakar Rally’s Twelve Days and Nights in Saudi Arabia
The Dakar Rally is being contested for the 43rd time, yet it’s only the second year that it is being staged in Saudi Arabia. Last year, the rally demonstrated to the world the Saudis’ ability to organize a global sporting event, bringing the Kingdom to prominence as a regional and international motorsports hub.
The landscape of Saudi Arabia is such that it allows for an almost infinite number of routes. While 2020 was the start of the Dakar in the Middle East, the route laid out for 2021 is all-new, the most notable change being reducing the fastest sectors to increase participants’ safety and focus more on navigation.
The Dakar competitors and crews first headed to Jeddah, where they spent a few days to comply with health measures taken to shield the rally from COVID-19. Technical and administrative scrutineering took place over the course of two days, January 1st and 2nd, with the Prologue and Start Podium on the 2nd. Three hundred vehicles were on the starting line, nearly as many as the previous year, a testimonial to the teams and organizers, and their commitment to hold the contest despite the worldwide pandemic.
On the 3rd, the rally started in Jeddah and finished in Bisha. From Bisha, the competition then headed to Wadi Ad-Dawasir, the second stage. Today, the event circles Wadi Ad-Dawasir, before moving on to Riyadh on Wednesday. The fifth stage reaches Buraydah on Thursday and continues on to Ha’il on Friday, January 8th.
The following day, Saturday, January 9th, the entire entourage gets a respite. After that, the Dakar presses on, from Ha’il on Sunday to Sakaka, from Sakaka to Neom on Monday for Stage 8, a roundabout in Neom on Tuesday the 12th to finish Stage 9, Neom to AIUIa on Wednesday, Stage 11 is AIUIa to Yanbu on Thursday, and completing the loop, finishing all 12 stages, and returning to Jeddah on Friday, January 15th.
2021 Dakar rule changes include efforts to level the playing field when it comes to navigation and to slow down the vehicles to make the race safer. The roadbooks already call out danger zones, but now competitors receive aural warnings as they approach hazard level 2 and 3 zones to keep them alert. In hazardous sectors categorized as slow zones, the speed limit will be adjusted accordingly.
What keeps pushing the Saudis to produce this spectacle? Their goals are to build a legacy, grow motorsports, and inspire generations of Saudi Arabians. It appears they are off to a pretty good start.
[Images: Amaury Sport Organisation]