Dakar still on for now as travel exception set to be granted

DirtFish understands that it is expected the Saudi Arabian government will waive border closures for the event

Stephane Peterhansel

The 2021 Dakar Rally is still currently going ahead as planned next month as the Saudi Arabian government is set to grant an exemption to allow the event to take place.

DirtFish understands that the Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the Dakar, is looking for ways to transport competitors and supporting staff to Saudi Arabia after the country announced it was closing its land and maritime borders for a week to combat the new strain of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia’s Press Agency said that “all international flights for travelers, except in exceptional circumstances,” would be suspended for at least a week, putting the event under threat.

It is believed that the Dakar Rally will be counted as an exceptional circumstance, although there has been no official announcement from the ASO and the Saudi Arabian government at this point.

DirtFish reached out to several team members due to compete on the Dakar, with one source suggesting that charter flights could be arranged to collect participants and staff from ‘various muster points’ to ensure safe arrival and transit to the event’s start location of Jeddah.

Another DirtFish source believed that there would be ‘no changes’ to the Dakar program.

Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel

As it stands, all 679 vehicles set to take part in the Dakar are in Jeddah, having been transported to Saudi Arabia via boat from Marseille, France at the start of December.

Several competitors also took part in the final two rounds of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas in Ha’il, the location of the rest day for the Dakar.

Some drivers and co-drivers elected to stay in Saudi Arabia until the start of the rally, while others chose to return to Europe.

Should the event go ahead as planned, strict COVID protocols have already been implemented by the ASO as revealed by the race director David Castera during the official route presentation last month. 

All participants are required to avoid as much contact with people as possible over the holiday period and need to provide a negative PCR test 96 hours prior to arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Once they arrive, competitors and support staff are required to isolate for a further 48 hours, while a second negative PCR test is needed to enter the bivouac.

The bivouac, capped at a maximum of 2400 people each day, itself will serve as a bubble, with all non-competitors required to stay in the bivouac for the duration of the rally.