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WRC signs 10-year deal to host Saudi Arabia round

The World Rally Championship is set return to the Middle East following the announcement of a new a 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia, beginning from next year.

The flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The WRC has been eyeing a return to the Middle East for some time having last hosted a round in the region in 2011 courtesy of Rally Jordan.

Confirmation of a 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia was announced at this weekend’s Rally Sardinia, which has been attended by HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Abdullah Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the Saudi Motorsport Company.

Rally Saudi Arabia is set to host the final round of next year’s expected 14-event championship in November and could be set to hold that berth for the next five years at least. The rally will be held around Jeddah with stages featuring a mixture of mountain and desert roads. A test event is likely to be held early next year as part of the Middle East Rally Championship.

HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Abdullah Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the Saudi Motorsport Company with Thierry Neuville

HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Abdullah Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the Saudi Motorsport Company with Thierry Neuville

“We are thrilled to host the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time in 2025. The arrival of another racing series of global stature in Saudi Arabia confirms the extent of our transformation into a major hub for motorsport in the region,” said HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Abdullah Al-Faisal.

“From 2025 we will proudly host Formula 1, Formula E, Extreme E, the Dakar Rally and now WRC and Rally Saudi Arabia in the Kingdom – an extraordinary accomplishment. 

“By growing our motorsport portfolio and further increasing our commitment to hosting major motorsport series such as WRC in the Kingdom, we remain true to the goals of Vison 2030 which aims to improve the lives of all Saudis.” 

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem added: "This is a great moment for motorsport in the Middle East. It has been over a decade since the FIA World Rally Championship last visited the region, and from my own experience, I know very well the unique challenges that the drivers and co-drivers will face when Rally Saudi Arabia gets underway in 2025.”

Why the WRC is heading to Saudi Arabia

The WRC has outlined several reasons behind its move to host a round in Saudi Arabia.

This is the latest FIA motorsport series to venture to the nation following moves by Formula E with its Diriyah E-Prix in 2018, while Formula 1 added the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to its calendar in 2021. The nation has also hosted the Dakar Rally since 2020.

A move into the Middle East region is seen by the WRC as part of its plan to complete a set of events covering all regions and terrain. It follows recent moves to reintroduce events such as Safari Rally Kenya, Rally Japan and the Acropolis Rally, in addition to its USA project planned for 2026.

The championship has also stated that Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning automotive market is attractive to current manufacturers and stakeholders.

WRC’s event director Simon Larkin says  Saudi Arabia’s unique roads will add something different to the championship when it comes to storytelling.  

“We haven’t been to the Middle East since 2011, so for us it is a completion of the story of our calendar. I think the pictures and the story we can tell there is really exciting,” Larkin told media including Motorsport.com.

“The roads that we have found there and the way we want to talk about it, is a rally of three stories. There will be a day in the mountains, a day in a volcano region and a day of desert. This isn’t Dakar but it will give the perception that we are doing a day in the desert on formed sand roads. Each day will have a different flavour.”

It is also hoped the event will help reconnect with a region that has a rich history in rallying, and in turn boost the number of WRC competitors from the Middle East and help grow the Middle East Rally Championship.

“We think it will be an amazing event and story, and with a motorsport culture that largely grew up on rallying,” said Larkin. “It didn’t grow up on Formula 1 or other sports. Rallying is way more in the heart and soul of your average Saudi motorsport fan and we think we will see that there.

“We used to have a lot of privateer competitors from the Middle East and that has dropped off. We think Rally Saudi Arabia can give a really big boost to the Middle East Rally Championship and we think it can drive participation there. We are trying to project where we are taking the WRC and improve rallying.”

F1’s decision to race in Saudi Arabia in 2021 raised discussions about the nation’s human rights issues and prompted accusations of sportswashing. When asked about the subject in context to the WRC’s decision to go to Saudi Arabia, Larkin added: “There is a women’s only rally that is run in Saudi.

“We think a lot of these obstacles are gone. Things like women being able to drive, it’s in the rear vision mirror and we can’t hold things against people forever, a lot of countries have things from the past. The way they [Saudi Arabia] are progressing and use sport to progress, that is the message we are happy to push.”

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