The Dakar is heading south. The two latest editions, which were focused on a tour of the Saudi deserts, demonstrated the diversity of the country’s landscapes, going from canyons and cliffs in the Neom region to stretches of dunes surrounding Riyadh, passing by the Red Sea coastline which sparkled with infinite shades of blue. To seek out challenges worthy of those who let nothing stop them in their tracks, the 2022 route will venture into the Empty Quarter, which is as sandy as it is mysterious. Surrounded by vast stretches of sand and dunes, the experts in the saddle or behind the wheel will be able to take advantage of the landscape, provided that they put their navigation skills to good use.
A prologue in sand
The revving of the engines will set the tone. Even for a short exercise designed to define a good starting order for the first stage, the immediate surrounding of Ha’il already offer substantial stretches of sand. This is a good way for the drivers to gently get used to a terrain that they will be seeing a lot more of: there will be three stages of nothing but dunes!
Two loop stages
In some places, it’s essential to take the time out to make the most of the sporting potential of the land we travel through. This will be the case on two occasions during Dakar 2022. It also provides an opportunity for the support teams to slow down and focus on their core work.
The marathon stage, very old-school
Managing the mechanics and physical exertion are two of the most important aspects of the rally raid, and these aspects are never as decisive as they are during a marathon stage, where the ability to be autonomous is essential, even for those used to helping each other out. In the Empty Quarter, the two marathon days will be run “the old-fashioned way”.
You could say it is the capital of the nomads in Saudi Arabia. Ha’il was for many years a stopover on the trade route linking the Red Sea and Mesopotamia. A place of exchange, rest or transit, the city has developed a welcoming feel, which is rooted in the way of life there. It is here that the core of Saudi drivers was formed, where the annual rally became the meeting place for the whole rally-raid community. After having already hosted one stage of the Dakar in 2020, and then the rest day in 2021, Ha’il is getting ready to organise the scrutineering and the rally start in 2022. A bivouac will be set up there at the start so that the drivers can truly immerse themselves in the atmosphere.
The large groves that gave the city its name in the 18th century (gardens in Arabic) have for the most part given way to a city which extends over more than 1,500 km2 (compared to 105 km2 for Paris or 203 km2 for Buenos Aires) and is home to more than six million inhabitants. The demographic growth in the capital since the 1970s has been accompanied by the construction of several grand skyscrapers with innovative architecture, such as the Al Faisaliah Tower (267 m), the Kindgom Centre (302 m) and the Burj Rafal (307 m). The capital of the Saudi kingdom saw the finish of Dakar 2020, and is once again going to provide an oasis for the crews and drivers of the 2022 edition... for a short rest day.
The Dakar landed in this economic centre of Saudi Arabia in 2020. Then in 2021, a loop was drawn up, starting and ending in Jeddah. This time, the gateway to the holy places of Mecca and Medina will be the ultimate goal of the adventure. Driving along the Red Sea coastline will serve as a reward for all of the efforts made during the 8000 km rally.