The final itinerary and entry lists for the 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia have been released by the event’s organizer, the ASO.
Dakar director David Castera and ASO’s CEO Yann Le Moënner officially presented the route for the 43rd edition of the classic rally-raid – which will feature 12 stages totalling nearly 3000 miles – during a press conference, alongside members of the Saudi Arabian government.
The event, which will take place between January 3-15, will start and finish in the country’s second largest city Jeddah and is the third consecutive year that it will run in one country.
As announced in June by the ASO, Dakar 2021 kicks off with a prologue in Jeddah, which will set the road order for the first of the timed special stages, with the subsequent order determined by the previous stage’s classification.
“I would like to thank all those concerned in Saudi Arabia who worked, with determination to organize this 2021 Dakar Rally” Castera said.
“Competitors have just over a month to finalize their preparations for the event and the fans will be able to watch their heroes tackle the amazing scenery of Saudi Arabia.”
The event opens with a fast 385-mile test (of which 172 miles are timed) from Jeddah to Bisha on day one, before heading into the sand dunes from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir where competitors will tackle a 283-mile timed second stage.
There will be two loop stages on the 2021 event, with the first coming at Wadi Ad-Dawasir, totalling 250 miles on day three.
The journey to the capital city of Riyadh is the longest of the rally at 505 miles, with the timed 209-mile section providing what Castera labelled as “one of the most nicest stages” from a technical standpoint.
Stage five goes from Riyadh to Buraydah, with 260 miles of timed section en route to the ancient city of Ha’il for the rest day on January 9.
The Marathon Stage will be split into two separate tests, with the first running from Ha’il to Sakaka before continuing onto Neom where the second of the two loop stages will be held.
The final stretch to the finish begins with a short 212-mile transition stage to Al-Ula, before the longest timed stage of the rally, at 346-miles to Yanbu along the Red Sea, which Castera believes will be “the most difficult stage of the rally”.
The rally then concludes in Jeddah with the final 139-mile stage.
Big guns lead entry list
Dakar Competitor’s relations coordinator Charles Cuypers said he was impressed with the uptake in participation despite the global health situation.
“The organization has worked all year to make the rally happen, while the drivers and riders have shown that they are as motivated as ever to take part.
“We’ve been in permanent conversation with the competitors since registrations opened in June and that has helped us put together what promises to be an extraordinary 43rd edition.”
Multiple event winners Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel head the near 300-vehicle entry list across (all categories) with their X-Raid Mini John Cooper Works buggies, while three-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah leads the Toyota charge, with Giniel de Villiers, Henk Lategan and Shameer Variawa as team-mates in the South Africa-based team.
Nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb will make his Prodrive debut at the wheel of the #305 BRX T1 buggy, and has 2014 Dakar winner Nani Roma as a team-mate.
Two other former World Rally Championship drivers, ex-Czech National Team driver Martin Prokop and Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, will also take part in the car category.
Toyota WRC refugee Kris Meeke lines up for his Dakar debut in the side-by-side (SSV) category.
The new-for-2021 Dakar Classic category will also feature cars which competed before the year 2000, with the entry including the likes of Pierre Lartigue’s 1994 winning Citroën ZX, Freddy Kottulinsky’s Volkswagen Iltus and the Porsche 911 of 1984 winner René Metge.
Hydrogen power announced for 2026
The ASO also announced its intention to focus on alternative energy sources for future editions, with all cars and trucks moving to hydrogen power from 2026. It is part of a wider plan to move all vehicles to hydrogen by 2030.
Castera said that the cars and trucks would operate in a “transition period” before the full-time switch.
Green technologies will also be in place for the 2021 event, with the bivouac at Neom becoming the first of its kind to be partially powered by solar energy.
“The Dakar has always been an open laboratory and we have decided within the ASO to go forward towards alternative motorization,” Castera explained.
“It means that as of today, the Dakar will slowly but surely move towards hydrogen. The idea for us that in 2030, we’ll only have hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and I mean by that for cars and trucks.
“For that, there will be a transition period: the first phase will be in 2026 when all the elite cars and trucks will be concerned. Then, it will be all vehicles for 2030.”
Castera confirmed that a full run-down on the plans to roll out the move to hydrogen power will be revealed at a special press conference on January 11 at the Neom bivouac.
COVID-19 protocols also in place
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the ASO has introduced several safety protocols to reduce the risk for competitors during the event.
Participants have been advised by the organizers to avoid contact with people around the holiday period and are required to take a PCR test and flu vacination one week before arriving in Jeddah.
Once they have arrived in Saudi Arabia, competitors must isolate for 48 hours while taking another PCR test during the administrative and scrutineering checks (scheduled for January 1-2). A negative test is also required to enter the bivouac, which will be limited to 2400 people on each day of the rally.
As well as social distancing being enforced, the rally organizers will be supplying all teams and participants with protective equipment such as face masks as hand sanitizer gel throughout the event.
Any competitor or team member found in contravention of these recommendations will be given a warning in the first instance and may face disqualification for repeated infringements.