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Dakar takes root in the desert of Saudi Arabia, third edition in that country starts tomorrow

The third Saudi edition of the Dakar, which starts on Saturday in Jeddah, takes root in the Gulf kingdom, with a slightly modified route, and important competitors in cars and motorcycles.

From January 1 to 14, 2022, 1,065 participants will face off in the desert of the Arabian peninsula, aboard 578 vehicles, in the 8,375 km planned in the program for this 44th Dakar.

The defenders of the title, the French Stéphane Peterhansel (car / Audi) and the Argentine Kevin Benavides (motorcycle / KTM), will be at the start, but the former, who launches with a hybrid car, has little chance of entering for the fifteenth time your name on the track record.

The Rally begins with a qualifying prologue that starts from Yedá, a port city in the center-west, which will also host the end of the test after twelve stages. The pilots will then head south to chain tours around the capital Riyadh, and then Bisha (southwest).

An open race

Three Audi hybrid vehicles will take part in the battle for the first time. Two of these buggies, whose batteries are recharged by a heat engine during the race, were entrusted to experienced pilots: Stéphane Peterhansel, holder of the record for victories in the test (14 wins, six of them on motorcycles), and the Spaniard Carlos Sainz, triple victor in cars, in 2010, 2018 and 2020. But they have already declared that they will not be eligible for victory this year.

Other great connoisseurs of the dunes, such as the South African Giniel de Villiers (winner in 2009 / Toyota), the Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah (2011, 2015, 2019 / Toyota) or the Spanish Nani Roma (2014 / Prodrive), aspire to become with the trophy in cars.

In motorcycles, the absence of Marc Coma and the passage of Cyril Despres to cars have led to a fierce fight since 2015, with Toby Price (2016, 2019 / KTM), Sam Sunderland (2017 / KTM), Matthias Walkner (2018 / KTM), Ricky Brabec (2020 / Honda) and Kevin Benavides, who will be at the start again.

But the party was filled with mourning before the start of the test with the loss on Thursday of one of its historic drivers, Karel Loprais, who died in his native Czech Republic, almost 20 years after the last of his six triumphs at the wheel of his Tatra trucks (1988, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2001).

In addition, there will be an as yet undetermined number of runners who will not start (the COVID tests continue).

A more feminine Dakar

Sixty women will start this year, with three all-female teams and two Saudis, in a country that has recently entered a vast program of economic and social reforms, which includes a loosening of bans on them, including driving. , effective until 2019.

Saudi leaders, criticized by human rights defenders, have used sport as a diplomatic tool for some years.

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