Flights to Saudi Arabia resume as kingdom ends temporary travel ban 


JEDDAH: For the second year in a row, Dakar Rally drivers are set to cross 8,000 km of Saudi land in a race not for the faint-hearted.
Saudi Arabia’s cities are set to receive over 300 drivers on bikes, quads, in cars, UTVs, trucks and this year’s newest category, classics vehicles. The race will begin and end at the Red Sea, with the first stage kicking off from Jeddah on Jan. 3 and the final stage from Yanbu to Jeddah on Jan. 15.  
Organized by the Ministry of Sports in coordination with the  Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), drivers will be off for 13 days and will pass through 12 different stages before reaching the finish line.
Among the participants, veteran rally racer Yazeed Al-Rajhi and fourth place finisher in last year’s rally is setting off with co-pilot Dirk Von Zitzewitz, a Dakar legend who has participated in more than 10 Dakar events.  A number of Saudi rally drivers will also be participating, with names including second-time participant Mishal Alghunaim, Abdulmajeed Alkhulaifi and Fawaz Altoaimi. In his second year participating, Yasir Alseaidan will be joining alongside fellow rally drivers Mohammed and Waleed Al-Tuwaijri, Faisal Mohammed Ftyh and Abdul Aziz Al-Yaeesh.

Toyota driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi of Saudi Arabia and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz of Germany compete during the prologue near Jeddah on the eve of the rally. (AFP)


In its first stage, drivers will set out from Jeddah heading due south to Bisha, passing through valleys and rough rocky roads for a distance of 622 km, with a special distance estimated to be 277 km.

The second stage will start from Bisha and head due east towards Wadi Ad-Dawasir through sand dunes, covering a total distance of 685 km, including a special distance of 457 km. Competitors are set to face rough roads before reaching sandy terrain near the valley.
Wadi Ad-Dawasir, the third stage and one considered a “loop” stage (beginning and ending at the same bivouac site) will set the stage for drivers as they face the high sand dunes of the Empty Quarter. Drivers must navigate through what is considered the largest sand sea in the world, covering 630 km, with a special distance of 403 km.
Drivers who make it back to Wadi Ad-Dawasir will head due north in the fourth stage, towards the Kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, for the longest stage of the Dakar Rally, with a total distance of 813 km and a special distance of 337 km. The variety of routes included in this stage will not allow the participants any time to rest. Moreover, mistakes during this stage may cause major setbacks as these routes are considered a transitional stage.

HIGHLIGHTS

• From NEOM to AlUla, drivers setting off in the tenth stage will head to the hills, crossing some of the Kingdom’s most beautiful vistas.

• From the majestic grounds of AlUla, heading back toward the Red Sea coastline, drivers will set their routes toward Yanbu before heading toward Jeddah in their last and final showdown on Jan. 15.

In the race’s fifth stage, drivers will set out on a long and arduous trip from Riyadh to Al-Qaisumah, in the northeast of the Kingdom, on Jan. 7, with the distance estimated to be 622 km and a special distance of 456 km.  
The sixth stage will set off towards Hail, crossing 618 km, and special distance of 448 km. Drivers will cross an entire sandy path in Hail, testing their driving abilities and skills, in the various categories of the race. At the end of this stage, competitors can enjoy one day of rest in the city.
The seventh stage will kick start again from Hail on Jan. 10 towards Sakaka, one of the northernmost cities of the Kingdom, with a total distance of 737 km and special distance of 471 km.
The eighth stage will see drivers set out from Sakaka towards NEOM on Jan. 11, with a total distance of 709 km and special distance of 375 km.
In the rally’s second “loop” stage, and for one of the most difficult stages due to the terrain’s diversity, drivers will set off from NEOM and go around the various mountainous terrain to the shores of the Rea Sea, with a total distance of 579 km and special distance of 456 km.
From NEOM to AlUla, drivers setting off in the tenth stage will head to the hills, crossing some of the Kingdom’s most beautiful vistas.
From the majestic grounds of AlUla, heading back toward the Red Sea coastline, drivers will set their routes toward Yanbu before heading toward Jeddah in their last and final showdown on Jan. 15.



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