Saudi Arabia to host desert off-road race the Dakar Rally in January

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Saudi Arabia is set to host the world famous off-road desert race, the Dakar Rally, from January 5-17, 2020, according to an announcement on Tuesday.

The Dakar Rally is one the world’s most prestigious rally races, in which competitors driving a range of off-road vehicles compete to finish a 7,500 kilometer race across sandy and rocky terrain. Established in 1978, the original route was held from France to Dakar, Senegal, before the track became too dangerous and moved to South America, where it remained known for its difficulty.

Now, Saudi Arabia is hosting the race for the first time.

The competition will take drivers all the way across the Kingdom, starting in Jeddah on the eastern coast and ending in Qiddiya, northwest of Riyadh, via the north and south of the country over 12 days.

The first day sees competitors race along the Red Sea coast, covering 752 kilometers including 319 kilometers of enclosed track known as special stages.

The track then takes in some of the Kingdom’s most famous tourist attractions: the site of the planned megacity Neom in the country’s northwestern corner near the border with Jordan, followed on day four by Al Ula, the historical Nabataean archaeology site. According to the event website, spectators will get the chance to explore the ruins of the Nabataean temples and uncover a hidden part of Saudi Arabia’s history.

Drivers then head on to Ha’il, north of Riyadh, which is the site of the Ha’il international rally – up until now, the Kingdom’s most prominent rally since its launch in 2006.

On December 11, the race takes a one-day breather in Riyadh, before the final six days take drivers on a loop of Saudi Arabia’s western and southern deserts.

Of the 7,500km distance covered in 12 legs, 75 percent of the terrain is sand, providing a challenge for drivers to overcome.

Drivers will race by bike, quadbike, car, SSV, or truck. Prominent drivers taking part include Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who is representing Toyota by car, last year’s bikes winner Australian Toby Price (Red Bull), and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi. Last year’s winner received $50,000 in prize money.

The race is one of the many sports and entertainment events taking place in the Kingdom under the drive to develop new sectors in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan.

“As Dakar Rally is about to be launched here in the Kingdom’s land, the world will see through its tours the picturesque nature of our country and its magnificent desert,” said Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority (GSA), in an announcement on Tuesday.

“The world will come closer than ever to the hospitality of the Kingdom’s people who are looking forward to welcoming the world,” he added. “Here the rally will make the history of a new chapter in Asia, the pages of which begin in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

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