The Dakar Rally will remain a Saudi Arabia-based event for its 2022 running – the third time it will be held in the Middle Eastern country.
However the route will largely be new, with a return to the Empty Quarter desert – a largely uninhabited desert covering a large area of the country, stretching into Yemen, Oman and the UAE.
The Dakar route had been due to expand into other countries following the expiration of Saudi Arabia’s exclusivity clause, but due to travel restrictions, the event will remain entirely contained within the Gulf nation.
The 2022 event will kick off with the Prologue in Ha’il on January 1, running for 14 days to come to an end on January 14 in Jeddah, with a traditional rest day in the middle of the event.
The route runs east to the Persian Gulf before heading south past Qatar and into the Empty Quarter, which features huge dunes which some complained were missing from previous events.
That was due to safety concerns, however competitors will now cross the most dangerous area by liaison, with a traditional bivouac housing drivers and support staff.
The rest day will allow for competitors to travel into the capital Riyadh via airlift.
Overall the route will include around 4,000km of special stages and 2,500-3,000km of liaisons.
“There is always a story to tell when you prepare a Dakar,” said rally director David Castera said. “When we couldn’t have two or three countries, we thought ‘what do we do?’ I listened to the people and they told me that there were a lot of rocks, that there was a lack of dunes.
“So we will start in Ha’il, which allows me to start with a sandy race, without dust, where people can get into their place from the start. Not easy, but quietly, without surprises, with some dunes.”
“Then we’ll go south. We’re going to enter the Empty Quarter to do dunes and more dunes. We’ll have three days of 100% dunes exclusively, with a bivouac in the middle that will allow us to go back to the origins of the race: no caravans to sleep in. That’s the spirit that I like and that’s what the Dakar has always had”.
“Then there will be a more normal second week, in inverted commas, with more emphasis on navigation, roads in the middle of big rocks, looking for valleys, but also with dunes. Overall, it’s like a sand bath because we’re going to have a lot more sand than in the last two years.”