Star-studded 2020 Dakar Rally line-up face Saudi Arabian desert test

Courtesy of Red Bull Media Service Team

Reigning champions Al-Attiyah, Price, Nikolaev and Lopez target more titles.

The 2020 Dakar Rally switches to Saudi Arabia in January after three decades in Africa and 11 editions in South America with the Red Bull Desert Wings squad out to keep their titles. Here is all you need to know:

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toby Price, Eduard Nikolaev and Chaleco Lopez all won at January’s Peru edition over dirt, gravel and sand with all four defending their titles.

– The 30th host country in the history of off-road racing’s most dangerous race will provide a stern test through a vast expanse of desert for the cars, bikes, trucks, quads and UTVs leaving from January 5 in Jeddah across 9,000km of sand to Al-Qiddiya on January 17.



– Speed and navigational skills will be put to the test from the Red Sea to Arabian Gulf with 250-metre high dunes between the brave competitors and finish line.

– Qatari Al-Attiyah and co-driver Matthieu Baumel (FRA) will be looking to keep their Toyota Hilux in front of a quality car field stacked with former Dakar winners such as Giniel de Villiers, Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz as well as talented Pole Kuba Przygonski.



– Thirteen-time champion Peterhansel will race his MINI John Cooper Works buggy with wife Andrea after they won the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

– Australian Price will face a tough task if he wants to make it a hat-trick of his own as former winners Sam Sunderland (GBR) and Matthias Walkner (AUT) line up on their bikes with Red Bull KTM Factory Team out to record an unprecedented 19th consecutive victory.



– Argentine Luciano Benavides won the FIM Junior Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and Spaniard Laia Sanz the FIM Women’s Cross-Country Rallies World Championship this year to boost their bike hopes with CS Santosh (IND), Mohammed Balooshi (UAE) and brothers Daniel and Walter Nosiglia (BOL) also hoping to battle through the precarious sand dunes.



– Team Kamaz Master won nine of the 11 truck editions in South America as Nikolaev targets a fifth title against Anton Shibalov, Andrey Karginov and Dmitry Sotnikov.

– Chilean Lopez defends his side-by-side title with compatriot Ignacio Casale back in the quad bike category up against rivals like Fahad Al Musallam (KUW).

QUOTES



Nasser Al-Attiyah: “OK, the location has changed but the Dakar will still be the Dakar. It will still be tough, we know that. I’m always learning. Even when you win, like we did at the last Dakar, you can still learn a lot. There’s so many good drivers out there, the only way to stay in front is to be at your best every day of the rally.”



Stéphane Peterhansel: “For us it will be a really interesting race in Saudi Arabia. I only know a little bit of the country, from a motorcycle race I did a long time ago. I remember beautiful landscapes. I’m sure it’s perfect for the Dakar. Lots of desert and open spaces, lots of possibilities.”

Andrea Peterhansel: “The closer we get to the Dakar, the more excited I’m getting. I’ve been looking at how the desert is in Saudi Arabia and we’re getting more information to work with. From what I’ve seen, this next Dakar will be a big challenge for everyone.”



Carlos Sainz: “We know there are going to be long days at this Dakar. Endurance is going to be a big part of it. It’s always long days at the Dakar, but this year I think it’s going to be a bit extra than before. My method has always been to prepare for the worst. That way, whatever happens, you are prepared.”



Giniel de Villiers: “I was the first winner when the Dakar went to South America so let’s hope I can be the first winner in Saudi Arabia! When it’s a new challenge for everybody it levels the playing field. I can see the terrain being pretty well suited to us. We’re going to try our best and see what happens.”



Toby Price: “The goal for 2020 is the same as always. We always want to finish on that top step at whatever race we enter, but especially at the Dakar. There’s also the aim to come out the other side of the rally in one piece, healthy and safe.”



Sam Sunderland: “It can’t be a negative that I know the region very well, having lived there for 11 or 12 years. Away from the race I’m also familiar with life in Saudi Arabia so I think that might help me out. Just simple things like knowing what types of food to expect can be a big help.”



Matthias Walkner: “I’m expecting the terrain to be more-or-less the same as what we’ve had in South America. I’ve spent much of the year recovering from injury. Thankfully after a few months I got into a rhythm and worked hard to get back on my bike. It’s great to know that all that hard work has paid off.”

Luciano Benavides: “Being from Argentina, of course there are things I will miss now the Dakar has moved away from South America. However, racing far from home takes a bit of pressure off. This can be a positive for me.”



Laia Sanz: “I’m very excited, I think the Dakar needed a change. Of course we all enjoyed South America a lot, but it’s always good to discover something new. These places will be unknown to all of us. Because of this I think the 2020 Dakar will be one of the best races we’ve ever had.”



Eduard Nikolaev: “The Dakar is moving to a new continent and we’re all waiting for what lies ahead. Very unpredictable. The terrain could be similar to African Dakars – not quite the amount of high dunes like in Peru, but a lot of rocky terrain like in Morocco. We are prepared for a hard route.”

Dmitry Sotnikov: “For this Dakar we are switching to an automatic gearbox. We see serious advantages, and automatic gearboxes are gaining popularity among competitors at the race. We never stop trying to improve our trucks.”

Chaleco Lopez: “I’ve had three podiums at the Dakar, two on a motorbike and last year with the side-by-side. In 2020 things will be different, the geography will change. However, I think the essence of the Dakar will remain the same.”

Ignacio Casale: “It’s a shame for South America that it loses a tremendous event, but the move to Saudi Arabia has given me an injection of extra motivation. There are new routes to discover, new challenges and new places to know. That’s why we all fell in love with this sport in the first place.”

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