Doha, Qatar: Reigning Dakar Rally champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will be hoping that the familiar sandy terrains of Saudi Arabia, where the gruelling rally is going to be held for the first time, will give him an advantage over the rivals.
Three-time champion Al Attiyah will be wearing a helmet with 3 stars and the dates of the three victories he made in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
“We are here to defend our title. We’ve won three times, but I know it will be hard with this new Dakar in the Middle East,” said Al Attiyah.
"The landscapes are really beautiful here, I know some regions well. I did two races here, in 2008 and 2011, and I won both. But it won’t be easy for anyone, we need to understand this race, which is completely new for everybody.
“It’s a mix of terrains that reminds me of Africa, Morocco and South America. I never really thought the Dakar would one day come to our region when I started the career, and now I’m just a thirty-minute flight from home! It would be a dream to win here,” he said.
Al Attiyah, along with navigator Mathieu Baumel will compete against a lineup of rally stars including his Toyota Gazoo Racing teammates Giniel de Villiers and Fernando Alonso, X-raid's Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz Sr, and home favourite Yazed Al Rajehi.
Meanwhile, former champion Nani Roma is trying his luck in totally unproven German manufacturer Borgward.
As many as 342 vehicles were cleared to start after three days of technical and administrative scrutineering at King Abdullah Stadium: 114 motorbikes, 23 quads, 83 cars, 45 SSVs and 46 trucks.