The route of the 42nd edition of the Dakar, which will start in Jeddah on 5 January 2020 and conclude 12 stages later in Qiddiyah near the Saudi capital of Riyadh, had been announced at the Arab World Institute in Paris.
With an overall distance close to 7,900km, the competitors will battle over 5,000km of special stages. In addition to discovering the Saudi Arabian dunes, which will be featured in the second half of the rally, the first half of the Dakar will take the crews through a labyrinth of tracks where navigation skills will be essential.
The change of continent will come with rule changes aimed to stay true to the founding principles of the rally raid, a discipline that allows amateurs to rub shoulders and sometimes battle with professionals. The new road-books and the new marathon stages will help reduce the gaps.
The official entry list for the 2020 Dakar includes 351 vehicles (vs 334 in 2019): 170 bikes and quads, 134 cars and SSVs and 47 trucks.
This coming January 5th, the second-largest city in the country will be the starting point of the Dakar and will, more importantly, signify the immediate entry into the difficulties of the rally.
The first third of the rally will test the navigation skills of the riders and crews. The direction choices will be made more complicated by the multitude of tracks. Near the Red Sea or the Jordanian border for the stages around Neom then towards Al Ula, it will be the navigators who will lead the way.
With more and more sand, the course will pose major challenges in the dunes between Ha’il and the capital Riyadh, where there will be a rest day. The rally will continue and intensify with the discovery and exploration of the vast “Empty Quarter” desertic portion of the Saudi territory where the all-important Shubaytah and Haradh stages will be contested. But the general classification will not necessarily be set in stone heading into the final Qiddiyah stage, where navigation could catch out even the best.
In these unexplored regions of the rally raid universe, another wrinkle of the 42nd edition also comes from the desire to rebalance the parameters in favour of the less professional entries. New colour-coded road-books will be handed out just minutes before the start of the timed sector on several stages to precisely deprive the competitors with the biggest teams of competitive advantage.
Similarly, the introduction of a “Super Marathon” stage for motorcycles (only top-pilots) where only 10 minutes of work on the machines will be allowed, making vehicle management crucial, as well as the more traditional marathon stage (imposed on all vehicles) that will conclude the day before the finish. To allow the less experienced to continue their learning process, a “joker” will be granted (in all categories) to competitors forced to retire. They will be permitted to re-join the rally in the “Dakar Experience” classification.
The call of the East has been overwhelmingly answered by Dakar competitors, with 351 vehicles expected in Saudi Arabia, which is a 5% increase from the start in the Peruvian capital of Lima last January.
Among the 557 competitors entered, 53 nationalities are represented, with a leading trio dominated by the French delegation (258), followed by Spain (77) and the Netherlands (53).
The most significant increase is from host country Saudi Arabia that will be represented by 18 raiders (13 drivers/riders and 5 navigators), with the most awaited being Yazeed Al-Rahji, who will be a contender for victory in a Toyota Hilux 4×4. The best Saudi motorcycle competitor entered in the Dakar, Michal Alghuneim, will also garner the attention of his countrymen. And finally, 13 women are entered for the 2020 Dakar, including the female tandem of Camelia Liparoti and Annett Fischer.