Dakar 2020: Saudi Arabia
Having moved from South America to Saudi Arabia, the world’s most gruelling cross-country rally, the Dakar Rally, kicked-off its 42nd event from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. This is the ultimate test for man and machine against the elements of nature that traditionally takes place in harsh desert terrain.
This year the race will be run over 12 stages with a well-deserved rest day halfway through. Competitors will cover a total distance of 7900 kilometres from 5 January 2020 to 17 January 2020. The racing distance is 5000km that will be run at maximum speeds. The organisers believe the race will be faster this year, like the old events in Africa, as the terrain allows for higher speeds and they expect an average speed of 105km/h on the special stages for the front runners.
From Jeddah the race will head north along the Red Sea and then turn East towards the capital Riyadh. After the rest day, teams will head South through the Arabian Desert before they pass the most southern point at Shubaytah at the end of Stage 10. After the final two stages the race ends in Qiddiya which is further North West. With ten South Africans competing in the race and the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team hailing from South Africa the local interest has grown tremendously. A total of 351 vehicles consisting of 147 Bikes, 23 Quads, 89 Cars, 47 Side-by-sides and 45 Trucks participate in the event. Former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso (#310) from Spain will be racing one of the South African built Toyotas, with Nasser Al-Attiyah from Qatar (#300), the defending Dakar champion, out to win his second title in a row and former Dakar winner, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers (#304), in an identical Toyota. Bernard Ten Brinke from the Netherlands (#307) who boasts several Dakar trophies, complete the very strong Toyota Gazoo Racing team. Multi-discipline winner and the man who carries the title of Mr. Dakar, Stephane Peterhansel from France and former World Rally Champion, Carlos Sainz Sr. from Spain, will pose a major threat for the Toyota team in their X-Raid Minis. Many of the former Dakar Factory Minis are raced by private teams and they will be in the mix to get an overall Mini win in Qiddiya. A very interesting entry in the factory teams is former bike winner, Nani Roma from Spain, who drives a Borgward for the first time in this event.
Amongst the bikes, KTM will be the team to beat with Australia’s Toby Price the favourite and defending champion. Sam Sunderland from the UK, 2017 winner and 2018 winner, Austrian, Matthias Walkner, will put up a great fight with their KTM team-mates.
There is a wide range of manufacturers amongst the bikes with KTM, Honda, Husqvarna, Yamaha, Gas Gas and Kawasaki represented.
With the Petronas De Rooy Iveco Team from the Netherlands having changed almost their entire crew, the door was left wide open for the Russian Kamaz team to take their 17th overall win in the truck category.
Stage 1 – 5 January 2020 – Jeddah to Al Wajh – Special Stage 319km, Liaison 433km, Total 752km
Romain Dumas and his co-driver Alexandre Winocq from France, who competed in numerous Dakar Rallies, had to look on as their car burnt out during the stage. Competitors found the first stage of the race extremely tough with the Toyota Gazoo Team suffering 11 punctures amongst their four cars, especially in the rocky sections towards the end of the stage. As a result, Nasser Al Attiyah had to settle for fourth place after he led most of the stage. A surprise win goes to Lithuanian, Vaidotas Zala (#319), in a Mini who kept it together ahead of Mini works drivers Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz Sr. who also suffered punctures in the rocks.Bernhard Ten Brinke finished 5th with Fernando Alonso in 11th place and Giniel de Villiers bringing the fourth Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota home in 14th position. The Borgwart of Nani Roma is currently in 16th place.
Toby Price continued his 2019 dominance and finished ahead of Honda rider Ricky Brabec from the USA and his KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner in the bike category.
Chilean, Ignacio Casale, an old hand and very competitive rider, won the quad race, while maiden SxS racer, Poland’s, Aron Domzala won the stage in the Side-by-Side competition.
As predicted, Kamaz had a great day with Russian, Anton Shibalov and his team, finishing first in truck #516 of the KAMAZ-Master team followed by the Maz-Sportauto team’s #503 with Siarhei Viazovich from Belorussia just over a minute slower. The Dutch Petronas De Rooy Iveco #505 finished 1’33” later in the hands of Janus van Kasteren.
Stage 2 – 6 January 2020 – Al Wajh to Neom – Special Stage 367km, Liaison 26km, Total 393km
As a first “Super Marathon” stage for the bikes and quads, where the time allowed to work on their machines is limited, this will be a very tough stage.
Navigation on the stage is critical and the teams will learn about the different Saudi landmarks compared to those in South America.
- Coen van Zyl