The third chapter of the world’s toughest endurance rally starts on Sunday, January 5. And for the first time in the sport's history, it takes place in Saudi Arabia after ten events in South America.
The 40th Dakar Rally pits man (sometimes teams of women) and machine over 7500km of terrain in the Saudi kingdom over two weeks.
Three-quarters of the race will take place in the desert and the race’s organisers say there’ll be over 5000km of special stages and two marathon stages. A mandatory rest day is penciled in on 11 January.
There are five categories (cars, SSV, truck, bike, and quad) and amateur and professional racing drivers will start the 752km first stage in Jeddah on Sunday, Saudi’s second-biggest city.
Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa head to Saudi as defending champions. They boast a star-studded team that includes former Dakar winners Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers. A man that needs no introduction to motorsport is Fernando Alonso. The two-time Formula 1 champion will make his Dakar debut in 2020.
The Dakar-built Hilux produces around 290kW and 620Nm and features a fully independent suspension. A mid-mounted engine is situated behind the centre line of the front wheels for better handling.
The stiffest competition will come from multiple Dakar Rally winner Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz in the X-Raid Mini John Cooper Works Buggy. Sainz, the 2018 Dakar winner, is joined by Peterhansel aka ‘Mr. Dakar’, who has won the event no less than 13 times, six wins on a bike and seven victories in the car category.
Another driver to watch out for is five-time Dakar bike winner Cyril Despres, who raced for Mini in 2019 and finished in fifth place. He has joined the Red Bull OffRoad team and will compete in the UTV (side-by-side) class (introduced in 2017) in Overdrive's newly-built OT3 buggy according to Motorsport.com.
The 45-year-old Frenchman’s best performance in the car section was third behind the wheel of the Peugeot 3008 DKR.
Last year’s bike winner, Toby Price, will no doubt want to defend his title and starts the race alongside KTM factory team mates Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner, Luciano Benavides and, Mario Patrao.
The KTM Factory team scored a triple podium in 2019. According to the organisers, there are several groups and the best-known one comprises the “Elite” riders.
These riders are equipped with distinctive yellow number plates and have all finished in the Top 10 in the general classification or have at least won a special stage (not including the prologue) in the past few years.
All motorcycles on the Dakar have their engine capacity limited to 450cc.
The route covers pretty much the whole of Saudi Arabia. The action gets underway in Jeddah and runs through the north of the country to the capital Riyadh, where the teams will have a rest day.
The organisers say the second part of the rally will see the Dakar caravan head to the south – to the so-called Empty Quarter. The finish and podium ceremony will be at Al Qiddia, a city 40km from Riyadh, on the 17th of January.