CHAPTER III: THE KINGDOM OF SAND
November 20 th 2019 - 11:00 [GMT + 3]
The route of the 42nd edition of the Dakar, which will start in Jeddah on 5 January 2020 and conclude 12 stages later in Qiddiyah near the Saudi capital of Riyadh, was announced this morning at the Arab World Institute in Paris. With an overall distance close to 7,900km, the competitors will battle over 5,000km of special stages. In addition to discovering the Saudi Arabian dunes, which will be featured in the second-half of the rally, the first-half of the Dakar will take the crews through a labyrinth of tracks where navigation skills will be essential.
The change of continent will come with rule changes aimed to stay true to the founding principles of the rally raid, a discipline that allows amateurs to rub shoulders and sometimes battle with professionals. The new roadbooks and the new marathon stages will help reduce the gaps.
The official entry list for the 2020 Dakar includes 351 vehicles (vs 334 in 2019): 170 bikes and quads, 134 cars and SSVs and 47 trucks.
Direction Jeddah... This fishing village dating back to the 7th Century has become one of the busiest ports in the world, as well as the gateway for pilgrims to the holy places of Mecca and Medina. This coming January 5th, the second largest city in the country will be the starting point of the Dakar and will more importantly signify the immediate entry into the difficulties of the rally. The first third of the rally will test the navigation skills of the riders and crews. The direction choices will be made more complicated by the multitude of tracks. Near the Red Sea or the Jordanian border for the stages around Neom then towards Al Ula, it will be the navigators who will lead the way. With more and more sand, the course will pose major challenges in the dunes between Ha’il and the capital Riyadh, where there will be a rest day. The rally will continue and intensify with the discovery and exploration of the vast “Empty Quarter” desertic portion of the Saudi territory where the all-important Shubaytah and Haradh stages will be contested. But the general classification will not necessarily be set in stone heading into the final Qiddiyah stage, where navigation could catch out even the best.
In these unexplored regions of the rally raid universe, another wrinkle of the 42nd edition also comes from the desire to rebalance the parameters in favour of the less professional entries. New colour-coded roadbooks will be handed out just minutes prior to the start of the timed sector on several stages to precisely deprive the competitors with the biggest teams of a competitive advantage. Similarly, the introduction of a "Super Marathon" stage for motorcycles (only top-pilots) where only 10 minutes of work on the machines will be allowed, making vehicle management crucial, as well as the more traditional marathon stage (imposed on all vehicles) that will conclude the day before the finish. In order to allow the less experienced to continue their learning process, a “joker” will be granted (in all categories) to competitors forced to retire. They will be permitted to re-join the rally in the “Dakar Experience” classification.
The call of the East has been overwhelmingly answered by Dakar competitors, with 351 vehicles expected in Saudi Arabia, which is a 5% increase from the start in the Peruvian capital of Lima last January. While the proportion of South American entrants has logically decreased, there are still 42 vehicles representing South America on the list... while there were just 12 during the last African edition in 2007! Among the 557 competitors entered, 53 nationalities are represented, with a leading trio dominated by the French delegation (258), followed by Spain (77) and the Netherlands (53). The most significant increase is from host country Saudi Arabia that will be represented by 18 raiders (13 drivers/riders and 5 navigators), with the most awaited being Yazeed Al-Rahji, who will be a contender for victory in a Toyota Hilux 4x4. The best Saudi motorcycle competitor entered in the Dakar, Michal Alghuneim, will also garner the attention of his countrymen. And finally, 13 women are entered for the 2020 Dakar, including the female tandem of Camelia Liparoti and Annett Fischer.
Adventurers of the world’s deserts
The Dakar attracts travellers in quest of the extreme. And a number of them have become faithful to the rally. Some took part in the 20th Century, while others discovered it in the early 2000s then followed it to South America and are present at the dawn of chapter III. 65 competitors on the entry list will have taken part in this very special world tour, which will give them the opportunity to have raced in four continents. Among them, four have won in Africa then in South America: Stéphane Peterhansel and Joan « Nani » Roma, who have both won on two and four wheels, Marc Coma on two wheeels, while Czech Republic’s Joseph Machacek dominated the then emergent quad category in Africa before winning the first Dakar in South America in 2009. However, the oldest winner in Saudi Arabia will be Italy's Giulio Minelli, who in 1986 accompanied driver Giacomo Vismara, to take the truck category laurels in Dakar. Also in contention for the win as a supplier for many riders and crews for more than 20 years, BF Goodrich is also the only official partner to have been associated with the Dakar since 2007.