If rumours are true, the Dakar Rally is headed to Saudi Arabia for three years of racing.
Ever since the Dakar Rally ended this January, there have been several competing rumours about the future of the race. Some said the race was returning to Africa, running in a single country, maybe Morocco … or maybe a multi-country race there again. Others insisted the race was staying in South America, with more countries interested in signing on to host the race again. Then, there were rumours the race might head to the Middle East—specifically, Saudi Arabia.
Now, the Saudi Arabia rumours have become the strongest. Several motorsport news outlets say there’s a three-year deal in place that brings racing back across the Atlantic Ocean.
There’s no official confirmation of the move. Dakar’s website lists no news on the issue, and when contacted by reporters from various publications, officials at ASO (Dakar’s organizers) would not discuss the rumour.
However—it would be very unsurprising if it was true. The rally was down to a single South American country this year, running only in Peru instead of 3-4 countries as usual. Even before that, the race was dogged with controversy. Many racers and fans have been unhappy with the event’s recent emphasis on high-speed stages with lower degrees of navigation and technical difficulty than in the past.
So what would a move to Saudi Arabia mean, as far as racing? The rumour is that the race will run its entirety in Saudi Arabia, meaning there’s probably little fear of rained-out stages as in years past. The race is getting more and more expensive to tackle, contrasting deeply with the impoverished areas the racers often traveled in South America. This move would theoretically introduce the spectacle to a new crowd of fans, a crowd that may be less marginalized. There would be plenty of sand dune-filled stages in Saudi Arabia, making navigation challenging.