The Dakar Rally is poised to move to another new territory after Saudi Arabia struck a long-term deal to host the motorsport showpiece, according to multiple reports.
The Autosport website said Dakar organiser Amaury Sport Organisation has sealed a five-year deal that will run from 2020 to 2024, with confirmation expected in the coming weeks.
The Rally has been staged in South America since 2009 after the 2008 edition – which was scheduled to start in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon and conclude in Senegal – was cancelled due to terrorism concerns.
A Saudi deal would mark another new frontier for the Rally, and another significant move by the Middle Eastern nation in the motorsport market. The country hosted the first Formula E race in the Middle East on December 15, under a 10-year hosting deal agreed by Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority and the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation as part of Vision 2030, an initiative that seeks to diversify Saudi Arabia’s interests away from the oil sector.
On February 2-3 last year, Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, became the first city in the Middle East to stage the Race of Champions (ROC) after securing hosting rights for the 2018 event. The two-day event took place at the 75,000-seat King Fahd International Stadium.
Commenting on reports of the Rally moving to Saudi Arabia, 2019 champion, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, told Autosport.com: “We are very happy to have the Dakar in our region. I can be in Saudi Arabia in 30 minutes. We love South America, the people there, the incredible countries they have, but we have to respect the decisions of the organisers.
“Like when we changed from Africa to South America, we were not happy, we wanted to continue there, but we quickly adapted to South America, exactly the same thing that will happen with the Middle East, because it is a big market too.”
Al-Attiyah added: “The plan seems to be a 100 per cent year in Saudi Arabia and then try to go to other countries like Oman, Jordan or Egypt.”