What would you consider a long drive? 500km? 700km? Or what about 800km? How many coffee breaks would you make along the way too?
Now imagine driving those distances, off road and in the sand, for nearly 12 days in a row without those coffee breaks or a good night of sleep. That is the Dakar Rally, widely considered as the world’s toughest motor race.
It will set off in Saudi Arabia for the first time on January 5 and conclude on January 17.
What’s so tough about the Dakar Rally?
Nearly three quarters of the race will take place on sand, an integral part of Dakar history, with the original route heading through the Sahara Desert during the Paris-Dakar days.
Picture images of competitors cresting crescent dunes, cars flying up the side of soaring stretches of sand or some drivers struggling to get to grips with the slow sand.
Getting lost happens less in the era of GPS, especially when travelling thousands of kilometres across sand and desert can take its toll on the car in different ways.
New colour-coded books will be given out just minutes before the start of stages to make sure nobody is able to scout the course ahead.
With this, and through advancements in communication technology, the Dark Rally is much safer these days,
Limiting speed, making resting at fuel stops mandatory and reducing fuel capacity requirements for the bike classes are all examples of how the organisers have changed the event for the better over the years.
What is the route?
In entirely new conditions, Dakar competitors must navigate their way through 5,097 kilometres of special off-road sections, the longest in competition history.
Starting in Jeddah, drivers and crews will navigate their way through the fast and winding dunes and stones for 752km.
The challenge will then continue up north along the coast for 900km through the Red Sea Project until it reaches the futuristic megacity of Neom.
Here, the highest point of altitude is 1,400 metres in Neom with a series of beautiful mountains and canyons for stage three.
Long stretches of sand and gravel awaits the pilots on stage four as they cruise through 676km of desert from Neom to Al Ula. It will be the sandy hills of Ha’il that will put the drivers to the test while travelling south on to Riyadh.
A rest day in the capital will have the pilots recuperating much-needed energy, before the titanic 741km stage, in the centre of the kingdom’s enormous desert before looping back towards Haradh in the eastern governorate of Al Ahsa.
This marks the entrance to the Empty Quarter and builds towards what will hopefully be a frenetic finale in Qiddiya, dubbed Saudi’s epic entertainment city, where the winners will be crowned champions in their respective categories.
Who is taking part?
With five distinct categories from cars, bikes, trucks, quads and UTVs (four-wheel drive, off-road utility vehicles), there are plenty of drivers to follow and support during the 12-day long race.
Reigning Bikes champion Toby Price and his KTM team-mates Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner, both of whom are former winners, are among three names to watch in their respective category.
On four wheels, Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar will be defending his Cars title, while it’s hard to look past the Kamaz Master team in the truck class.
Two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso is sure to capture much of the attention, the Spaniard keen to test himself in one of the gruelling races in the world.
WRC champions Ari Vatanen and Juha Kankkunen will be familiar Dakar winners lining up on the start line, and Seb Loeb, who finished third last year.
Six-time Le Mans winner – and twice F1 World Championship runner-up – Jacky Ickx is also a Dakar champion – as is 1997 Alpine Ski World Cup champion Luc Alphand.
Double WRC champion and two-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz, and 2016 WEC champion Romain Dumas will be relishing the chance to shine on a new route and entirely new racing conditions.
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