A new and exciting chapter in the prestigious history of the Dakar Rally is ready to be written as the world’s biggest and most challenging rally confirmed it will debut in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in January 2020.
At a special event held on Thursday in Qiddiya, the location that marks the finish line at the end of the 9,000-kilometer endurance race on the outskirts of Riyadh, officials, VIPs, leading international pilots and media gathered as organizers revealed the event dates and route as part of a cultural celebration filled with colour, music and dance.
After 30 years of discovering the beauty of Africa and a decade of adventure exploring the spectacular landscape of South America, the stunning and unchartered terrain of Saudi Arabia awaits participants of Dakar Rally 2020, which is scheduled to start in the port city of Jeddah in western Saudi Arabia on January 5 and eventually finish in Qiddiya southwest of the Saudi capital Riyadh on January 17 after having swept across the Kingdom through 10 challenging stages.
Organized by the Saudi General Sports Authority, the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation and Amaury Sport Organisation, Dakar Rally 2020, the first of a ten-year agreement, will take competitors on a breathtaking tour of unique and untouched natural scenery. The gruelling yet remarkable route is set to pass through a diverse range of colours and surfaces, racing between, along and through canyons, dunes, mountains, deserts and wadis, for a rally like never before.
The addition of the Dakar Rally to the growing high-caliber international sports calendar of Saudi Arabia, sees the world’s most iconic motorsport adventure join Formula E, WWE, European Tour Golf and the Italian Supercup, as events that have all recently taken place in the Kingdom.
With Saudi Arabia continuing to open up its borders to participants and fans of live sport, music and culture, organizers hope to welcome participants from as many as 60 countries, to complete in one of 4 different categories: Cars, Trucks, Bikes, and UTV and SxS.
HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, commented: “The vision and guidance of our leaders have made our dreams and ambitions limitless and have set the sports scene in the Kingdom on a remarkable success route. We are thrilled that the Dakar Rally, an event with a huge global appeal, is coming to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Asia for the first time and as part of a 10-year agreement. Our country is extremely passionate about sports, especially motorsports, and our strategic goal is to feed that appetite as we move further towards achieving Vision 2030, of which sports is a key pillar. In hosting Dakar Rally, we aim to produce an unbelievable and unforgettable experience for drivers as they discover the beauty of Saudi nature and a unique spectacle for motorsport fans not only in the country but also in the region and around the world.”
“Saudi Dakar 2020 will be a journey through breathtaking scenery, unknown landscapes, unexpected challenges, untold stories, and unbelievable memories. Together, Saudi Arabia and the Dakar Rally will write a new chapter and tell a new story, a story of how the greatest race on Earth and Vision 2030 united to redefine human adventure. Dakar is more than just a race, it is a strong message of openness and welcome that the Kingdom wants to send to the world through sports, tourism, and culture. It is also another testament of its vision and ability to host the biggest sporting events and a chance for the whole world to see the real Kingdom, to meet its generous people and to witness first-hand how it is driven by ambition, professionalism and the desire to succeed at the highest levels. We look forward to welcoming Dakar and the world in their home, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
On January 5 Dakar Rally 2020 will depart from Jeddah, known as the Bride of the Red Sea, heading north along the coast to Neom, one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects which is currently under development.
From Neom, participants will race eastwards and inland towards Ha’il, the traditional heartland of authentic Arab hospitality and generosity and birthplace of ancient Arabia’s famous poet Hatem Al-Tai. From Ha’il, the race continues south towards the capital and the Kingdom’s largest city, Riyadh.
From Riyadh the race moves onwards towards the Eastern Province, distinguished by its beautiful sandy beaches that emerge from the banks of the Gulf, and home to a big portion of the renowned Empty Quarter, the world’s largest contiguous desert. The endless pristine expanse filled with dramatic gold-coloured sand dunes not only offers unimaginable beauty but also one of the toughest tests for competitors and could prove pivotal to the final results.
For those who successfully maneuver through the daunting desert landscape the closing stage returns participants to the outskirts of Riyadh to the finishing line at Qiddiya, a future entertainment, sports and cultural destination that sits beneath the Tuwaiq Mountain cliffs.
HRH Prince Khalid bin Sultan Abdullah Al Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, said:
“I have always wanted to participate in Dakar Rally. While I wasn’t fortunate to achieve that ambition, I’m now part of achieving a much bigger dream for my country as Dakar comes to the Middle East region for the first time ever. The vision and support of HRHC Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the trust that GSA president HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal had put in us were key to our efforts to secure the hosting rights for an event of such a global magnitude.”
“We promise contestants new challenges, including stages in the vast, majestic and mysterious desert of the Empty Quarter. The country’s unique terrains and diverse nature will also give competitors a one-of-a-kind life experience.”
Dakar Rally Director David Castera noted:
“Every once in a while, all the signs indicate that we are on the verge of turning a new page of history. The book of the Dakar tells the story of all these characters who had the chance and talent to live multiple lives in one. It often compelled them to jump on opportunities, follow their dreams and tap into their courage to achieve and consolidate success. Back in his time, it was this very same vision that inspired Thierry Sabine to explore Africa with a group of pioneers, eventually culminating in the creation of the Dakar. Following 30 years of discoveries, fateful encounters, and exploits, Étienne Lavigne rose to a new challenge when he took the rally across the Atlantic to South America and brought Dakar fever to a new continent. Now, the time has come to set a new course and enter uncharted territory with the next destination of the Dakar and its competitors: Saudi Arabia.”
Michael Reininger, CEO of Qiddiya Investment Company, said:
“To be part of the Saudi Dakar rally is an amazing opportunity for Qiddiya and we are thrilled to be hosting the official announcement of the rally’s move to the Middle East. Qiddiya will be the last stop on this endurance race next year as the drivers’ journey through the rugged Saudi terrain comes to an end. For us, the end of the race will be the beginning of our motorsports adventure. Over the coming years we will not only host more events on the global motorsports calendar, we will also create an unparalleled collection of facilities and programmes that position Qiddiya as the motorsports capital of the world.”
History of Dakar Rally
Biker Thierry Sabine gets lost in the Libyan desert while competing in the Abidjan-Nice Rally. After being rescued from the sands on the verge of death, he vows to share the scale and magic of the desert with the whole world.
1978: A dream come true
On 26 December 1978, a field of 170 adventurers starts its 10,000-kilometre quest through Algeria, Niger, Mali, the Upper Volta, and Senegal. A total of 74 vehicles make it to the finish on Place de l’Indépendance in Dakar, with Cyril Neveu at the helm.
1983: Ickx on all fronts
Celebrities and the best drivers and riders in the world heed the call of the Dakar. The combination is a successful one, with the six-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Jacky Ickx and comedian Claude Brasseur taking the spoils in the fourth edition.
1986: Tragedy strikes
Thierry Sabine and Daniel Balavoine die in a helicopter crash alongside pilot François-Xavier Bagnoud, journalist Nathalie Odent and radio technician Jean-Paul Lefur. Gilbert Sabine, the father of the creator of the race, takes over as director.
1992: Africa from north to south
The Dakar takes a break from the capital of Senegal to pit the competitors against the challenge of a lifetime. The drivers and riders have to tackle a route of almost 12,500 kilometers through 11 countries to cross Africa from one side to the other and reach Cape Town in South Africa. Stéphane Peterhansel (motorbikes) and Hubert Auriol (cars) stand atop the podium at the end of the Odyssey.
1998: Peterhansel rolls a six
The biker with a blue bandana emerges victorious from a clash of titans with Orioli and Arcarons to become the undisputed master of the category in the 1990s. His sixth win catapults him past Cyril Neveu as the event record holder. “Peter” has since added seven car victories to his tally!
2000: At the foot of the pyramids
The Dakar marks the turn of the century next to one of the seven wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Reigning champions Richard Sainct (motorbikes) and Jean-Louis Schlesser (cars) both manage to defend their titles against this prestigious backdrop.
2001: Miss Dakar
No one suspects that this will be the last Paris–Dakar. In contrast, everyone sees Jutta Kleinschmidt, who had made her Dakar debut in 1988 on a motorbike, become the first woman to win the rally, this time racing at the wheel of a Mitsubishi 4×4. She remains the only female winner of the event to date.
2009: Rising from the ashes in Buenos Aires
The Dakar picks itself up and crosses the Atlantic to rise from the ashes. A new era dawns with 4 million spectators turning out in force to cheer on the drivers and riders in the majestic landscapes of Argentina and Chile.
2012: Pacific Challenge
After three years with a route starting and ending in Buenos Aires, the organizers break the mold with a finish on the Pacific coast of Lima, Peru.
2014: Dizzying heights
Bolivia becomes the 28th country to host the Dakar. The Altiplano and Salar de Uyuni introduce a new test for the competitors: extreme altitude, which takes a toll on both their bodies and their machines.
2020: Chapter 3
In the wake of its first foray into Paraguay in 2017, the Dakar adds the 30th country to its list. In Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, the competitors will face challenges such as the “Empty Quarter”, a pristine expanse that has never been explored fully before.