The toughest race on earth

The Dakar rally, known to be the toughest race on the planet, has after 10 years found a new home in Saudi Arabia.

The 42nd edition of the Dakar took competitors from the shores of the Red Sea in Jeddah, around the canyons and mountains of the western part of the country, over the dunes of the Empty Quarter and all the way to the Qiddiya Sports and Culture Complex near the capital Riyadh. Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa invited me to experience the start of this amazing race.

The day before the start:

The day after we arrived, we headed into the bustling city of Jeddah which is nestled along the shores of the Red Sea. The city is a mixture of modern skyscrapers towering above the old town. After we explored the intricacies of the streets, we headed to the ceremonial podium event where all the bikes, quads, cars and trucks were on display. The event also included musical, dance and light shows which kept the crowds entertained and the Saudi prince also made an appearance and greeted some of the top drivers that were participating in the event. The proceedings carried on into the late evening but we needed to get to another hotel, a few hundred kilometres away, in the city of Yanbu’al-Bahr.

Day 1: Race day

We arrived at our overnight hotel rather late that night or rather the early morning, whichever way you look at it. After a few hours’ sleep, we headed into the desert and for a brief moment, I thought that I was in Namibia as the landscape looks similar. After meandering on the dirt tracks deeper into the unknown, we arrived at an exclusive waypoint where our event organisers had set up an authentic Arabian tent with Persian carpets and what was for me a highlight, Arabian cuisine. It wasn’t long after we arrived that the first bikes started making their way through the stage, passing but a few meters in front of us. It was Toyota Gazoo Racings Nasser Al-Attiyah who opened the first stage but it was a day of punctures for the team as they suffered eleven punctures between four cars during the first stage. Giniel De Villiers ended in 14th position and when we met up with him in the Bivouac, he seemed rather disappointed as one would expect.

Day 2: zero to hero

After spending a bitterly cold night in the Arabian Desert in tents we rose for a rather hot day of racing. Nevertheless, being woken up by the sounds of a camera crew helicopter flying a few meters above you is something quite special. We once again witnessed competitors coming past our tents with G. De Villiers passing us quite early on, meaning that he had made up a noticeable lead. We, however, waited quite a while for Fernando Alonso and as we left our camp we spotted a battered Hilux making its way across the rough terrain. It was only when we arrived back in the Bivouac that we were told that Fernando suffered broken front suspension. He and his navigator, Dakar legend Marc Coma had to repair the broken mechanical bits while on the stage. The good news, however, was the fact that Giniel De Villiers won the second stage in his South African built Toyota Hilux, after starting in 14th position that morning. Another special moment was when motorbike rider Ross Branch, who comes from Botswana, won the stage on his KTM,  a great ending to the day for Southern African drivers.

The Dakar is not an easy race, it takes its toll on everyone involved. Competitors push themselves to the limits to beat the Dakar but the Dakar fights back and sometimes it wins. Motorcycle rider and sadly, Dakar legend Paulo Goncalves lost his life after a crash during stage 7 proving once again that the Dakar pushes man and machine to the limits and sometimes beyond.

It was, however, a close finish for the Toyota team with Nasser Al-Attiyah finishing just 6.21 minutes behind Carlos Sainz who won the 2020 Dakar rally. Giniel De Villiers finished 5th overall with, rookie, yes, rookie driver Fernando Alonso coming home in 13th position. Saudi Arabia is a beautiful country but, this is the Dakar rally the toughest race on earth and team Toyota has a lot of planning and development to do and consider before next year’s race.





Related Articles

Back to top button