By Sports Reporter/Doha
Reigning champion Nasser al-Attiyah will be the hot favourite as Dakar Rally heads to Saudi Arabia in January next year. After three decades in Africa and 11 editions in South America, the toughest rally on the planet will be held in Saudi for the first time. The action gets started on Sunday, January 5 in Jeddah and finishes 9,000km later on Friday, January 17 in Al-Qiddiya.
And Qatari ace al-Attiyah will be gunning for his fourth Dakar title alongside his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel. Al-Attiyah has been on great form during recent years at the wheel of his Toyota Hilux. A dune-driving natural, it’s hard not to see the Qatari challenging for a yet another Dakar title in January.
Al-Attiyah said: “The location has changed but the Dakar will still be the Dakar. It will still be tough, we know that. I’m always learning. Even when you win, like we did at the last Dakar, you can still learn a lot. There’s so many good drivers out there, the only way to stay in front is to be at your best every day of the rally.”
A vast expanse of desert as well as a mosaic of other challenging terrains will await the world’s best off-road racers. Speed and navigational skills will be put to the test for two weeks, from the Red Sea to the Arabian Gulf. The 250-metre high dunes must be successfully traversed by any competitor hoping to cross the finish line.
While Al-Attiyah is well versed with the conditions, he will face the toughest challenge from other drivers. Also taking their place on the start line in Jeddah on January 5 will be a pair of all-new MINI John Cooper Works Buggies. The husband and wife team of Stephane (FRA) and Andrea Peterhansel (GER) will take charge of one buggy, while Carlos Sainz (ESP) and Lucas Cruz (ESP) will race the other.
Can Stephane win his 14th Dakar title, and his first while racing alongside Andrea? The fact that the married couple won the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies suggests they have a great chance of more success in Saudi Arabia.
“For us it will be a really interesting race in Saudi Arabia. I only know a little bit of the country, from a motorcycle race I did a long time ago. I remember beautiful landscapes,” Stephane said.
Among the Peterhansels’ biggest challengers for the win will be their teammates Sainz (ESP) and his co-driver Cruz (ESP). Sainz himself is a two-time winner of the Dakar car race and one of the most recognisable faces in the bivouac.
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Giniel de Villiers (ZAF) is another driver in the pack who knows what it takes to win the Dakar. De Villiers won the first Dakar in South America and along with co-driver Alex Haro (ESP) will be gunning for another one.
Further contenders for car class glory include Kuba Przygonski (POL) and co-driver Timo Gottschalk (GER). The pair finished the year as runners-up in the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas and have a powerful MINI John Cooper Works Rally at their disposal.
In the bike race it’s all eyes on the Red Bull KTM Factory Team to see if their winning run can extend to a third region. The team are coming to Saudi Arabia with the aim of winning an unprecedented 19th consecutive victory at rally-raid’s most prestigious event.
They have three bikers in their squad who have already won the Dakar: Toby Price (AUS) in 2016 and 2019, Sam Sunderland (GBR) in 2017 and Matthias Walkner (AUT) in 2018. While Price is the reigning Dakar champion, Sunderland has been busy this season and picked up the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.
Also in the Red Bull KTM Factory Team comes Luciano Benavides (ARG) who this year won the FIM Junior Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. The Dakar welcomes back GasGas rider Laia Sanz (ESP), once again the FIM Women’s Cross-Country Rallies World Championship winner.
“I’m very excited, I think the Dakar needed a change. Of course we all enjoyed South America a lot, but it’s always good to discover something new,” said Sanz.
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