The Dakar Rally's Twelve Days and Nights in Saudi Arabia

Jason R. Sakurai
by Jason R. Sakurai

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]

Jason R. Sakurai
Jason R. Sakurai

With a father who owned a dealership, I literally grew up in the business. After college, I worked for GM, Nissan and Mazda, writing articles for automotive enthusiast magazines as a side gig. I discovered you could make a living selling ad space at Four Wheeler magazine, before I moved on to selling TV for the National Hot Rod Association. After that, I started Roadhouse, a marketing, advertising and PR firm dedicated to the automotive, outdoor/apparel, and entertainment industries. Through the years, I continued writing, shooting, and editing. It keep things interesting.

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  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Jan 06, 2021

    “ What keeps pushing the Saudis to produce this spectacle? ” The house of Saud has finally realized what the UAE figured many years ago: oil based revenue is not returning to the OPEC’s glory days. Therefore they require to diversify the economy. Again taking a cue from the UAE or Qatar, they are attempting to branch into tourism. But as others have already mentioned, their radical Islamist view is a major roadblock if they plan to cater to non-islamic tourism.

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jan 06, 2021

    An advertorial of little cunning. Expect the ghost of T E Lawrence riding an Ariel Square Four motor bike to take the lead near Neom, cruisin' easy, fishtail exhausts blatting. Saudi Arabia to be a motorsports hub? No women drivers allowed unchaperoned, and no beer for thirsty support crew persons because alcohol is illegal. Yup, sounds like someone had a marketing brainwave.

  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)
  • 1995 SC I'm likely in the minority, but I really liked the last Eldorado best. That and the STS.
  • Dartdude Typical Joe, bribing people for votes. He will do anything to re-elected, but as soon as he is he will go back on everything he says and does. America has never been this venerable as it is today. NO country respect Joe and what he says.
  • Theflyersfan Since I'm one of a couple of IT guys that supports the network, server administration, and all things computer related at a 24/7 logistics center (only closed on Christmas), I have to work some of the long weekend. But there's still time after we close early on Monday to fire up the grill and smoker, have a few friends over and scarf down some smoky rubbed ribs and burgers. Remember those soldiers who have died. I'm sure those in my generation had grandfathers who fought in WW2 and fathers who fought in Vietnam. I have my grandfather's dog tags and his enlistment card framed as a reminder of the sacrifices they made and to honor his memory.