Dakar signs five-year agreement with Saudi Arabia
The Dakar Rally will leave South America to start a new era in the Middle East in 2020 after signing a five-year deal with Saudi Arabia.
Dakar organiser ASO has run the world’s most famous rally raid in South America since 2009, a move brought about by terrorist threats in Mauritania that forced the cancellation of the 2008 event – the last in Africa.
ASO declined to comment when contacted by Motorsport.com but an announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
This year’s Dakar was the first to run entirely within one country – Peru – after South American neighbours Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia failed to find agreement with ASO.
While one more South American edition was understood to be an option, continued economic uncertainty forced negotiations in the Middle East and South Africa.
Former race director Etienne Lavigne outlined the difficulties in January.
Lavigne said: “The truth is that we have the pressure to propose a project for 2020 and beyond as soon as possible.
“In three or four months, if we don’t know how to recover the desire [for the event], we have to change course – we cannot afford a situation like the last months.”
The first year of a five-year agreement means the rally starts from Riyadh in January, providing the necessary stability for ASO.
This year’s Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah told Motorsport.com: “We are very happy to have the Dakar in our region. I will be in Saudi Arabia in 30 minutes [from his home in Qatar].
“We love South America, the people there, the incredible countries they have, but we have to respect the decisions of the organisers.
“Like when we changed from Africa to South America, we were not happy, we wanted to continue [in Africa], but we quickly adapted to South America.
“Exactly the same thing that will happen with the Middle East, because it is a big market too.”
Some have questioned how the Saudi Arabia will manage the arrival of hundreds of foreigners, having only started issuing tourist visas at the end of 2018, as well as female competitors, team members, organisers and journalists.
Al-Attiyah is confident the region will deliver, stating “sport is above politics” with exceptions made to adapt to the presence of the Dakar.
The Toyota driver continued: “I did the Cross Country Hail Rally twice in Saudi Arabia and it’s an amazing place with kind people. I’m sure the Dakar will be great in our region.
“The plan seems to be a 100 percent year in Saudi Arabia and then try to go to other countries like Oman, Jordan or Egypt.”
Saudi Arabia’s not short of terrain for the Dakar, with 1.4 million square miles of Arabian desert to work with, along with the Asir mountain range where temperatures range from -2 to 30 degrees Celsius in January.
Saudi Arabia flag
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images
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