The newest edition of the Dakar Rally kicked off yesterday at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for Stage 1, which will be a 752-kilometer thrust up to the City of Al Wajh. Saudi Arabia will be the host of the Dakar Rally for the next 5 years – a deal that ensures that the world's toughest motorsport event continues to thrive.
This year, a total of 557 competitors joined the Dakar Rally (351 vehicles), 147 of which are motorcycles. To level the playing field, several rule changes were introduced this year. The new color-coded roadbooks were handed out only minutes prior to the start of the timed sector. The aim is to reduce the competitive advantage of the big teams and to rebalance the parameters in favor of the amateur teams. Also, to eliminate cheating with technology only afforded by the big-budget teams, all unapproved competitor electronic devices will need to be locked in a sealed compartment during the race.
Another new addition to this year's Dakar is the introduction of the Motorcycle Super Marathon stage, where only 10 minutes of mechanical repair or servicing will be allowed on bikes, including changing of tires.
There's also the introduction of the Dakar Experience class, where competitors who were forced to retire (out of the race) can get a second chance to continue on (without points) and keep learning and return with more experience (particularly in the later stages) to complete in the rally in the future.
The inaugural Dakar Rally has was held in 1979, where 182 vehicles departed in Paris, France, but only 74 made it to the finish line in Dakar, Senegal. Up until 2007, the Dakar Rally was held from Paris to Dakar, hence the namesake, but security concerns forced the organizers to relocate the race to South America, beginning in Buenos Aires, Argentina and traversing the countries of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, and Bolivia, where it stayed from 2009 to 2019.
This year's Dakar will be held in 12 stages across the Saudi Arabian desert, offering close to 7,900 kilometers of unforgiving terrain from January 5 to 17, where it finishes at Al-Qiddiyah, about 40 kilometers away from Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh.