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Saudi Arabia to remain exclusive home of Dakar Rally

A picture taken in Paris on June 10, 2020 shows a trophy of the Dakar Rally (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Dakar Rally motorsport event will continue to be held exclusively in Saudi Arabia for its 2021 edition, although a fresh route will be put together following this year’s race.

Saudi Arabia hosted the event for the first time in January this year after signing a five-year deal in April 2019. The deal granted Saudi Arabia exclusivity for this year’s event but this will now extend to the 2021 edition.

Amaury Sport Organisation had been keen to add a second country to host alongside Saudi Arabia next year, with Egypt and Jordan among those said to be considered, Autosport has reported. With travel restrictions expected to be in place for some time due to Covid-19, it has been decided that the event will once again be held in just one country.

David Castera, Dakar Rally director, told Autosport: “We do not have the route that we expected, because we had two to three countries in our minds, but with Covid-19 and confinement there was no way to go out and visit those territories.

“If it is done, it must be done properly and you must go to the field to speak with governments. There was no other option but to keep the entire Dakar in Saudi Arabia. There was no way to travel and it has been like that. But in the coming years we will (add more countries).”

It will mark the third year in a row that the Dakar Rally has been held exclusively in one country, with Peru having hosted in 2019. The Rally had been staged in South America since 2009 after the 2008 edition – which was scheduled to start in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon and conclude in Senegal – was cancelled due to terrorism concerns.

The 2021 event will run from January 3-15 and will start and finish in Jeddah. Every timed section of the course, which will include a rest day in Ha’il, will be brand new. The course will revisit some places that formed part of the 2020 route, but the specials will be completely new.

Next year, road books will be handed out to drivers before the start of each special. Some categories will have digital road books, and rules have been amended to slow vehicles down and make the race safer after the deaths of motorcyclists Paulo Goncalves and Edwin Straver at this year’s Rally.

The Dakar Classic will also launch in 2021, running parallel with the main race and serving as a consistency test for vehicles that took part in the Rally or other major rally-raid events before the 2000s.

ASO also organises the Tour de France and last October it announced that it would be organising a new cycling race in Saudi Arabia starting from this year. The inaugural Saudi Tour took place from February 4-8 and centred around the country’s capital, Riyadh.

The move represented another shot fired in the conflict between ASO and Qatar-owned international broadcaster beIN, itself part of the wider regional power struggle in the Middle East.