The famed Dakar Rally returns to Saudi Arabia for a fourth year in 2023, though with a new route and various rule changes that were announced Sunday.
After preferring a loop-style course in recent years, the Rally will once again be point-to-point beginning on a beach by the Red Sea and concluding at Dammam at the Arabian Gulf on the opposite coast of the country. The route departs its “Sea Camp” bivouac by heading northward through the Medina and Tabuk Provinces before beginning the eastern trek that crosses Ḥa’il, Al-Qassim, Riyadh, and the Eastern Province. Once in the Eastern Province, the largest in Saudi Arabia, the Rally traverses a massive desert called Rub’ al Khali (the “Empty Quarter”) before going to Dammam.
Ḥa’il and Riyadh are no strangers to auto racing as both provinces were sites for the 2022 Rally while the former was the midpoint of the 2021 edition. Riyadh Province also hosts Formula E.
The Rally will be fourteen stages long with a prologue planned to begin the event, making for fifteen days of competition. The stage count is the most for the Rally since the 2018 race in South America had the same amount, and a departure from the twelve that made up the first three Saudi races. Distance-wise, the route figures to be nearly 5,000 kilometres in Special Stages, a significant increase from the 4,258 of 2022 and 4.767 of 2021.
To add a twist to the Special Stages, their routes will branch off in certain sections and competitors given differing ‘A’ and ‘B’ roadbooks to follow. This ensures a racer would not follow a peer near them and instead run the stage based on the road book assigned to them. Such roadbooks are no longer literal paper books as the Rally will introduce digital maps for all.
The 2023 Rally will also incentivise Bike competitors by offering time compensations that nullify any time lost by a rider who begins a stage first.
The Dakar Classic, a regularity rally that serves as a side event to the main race and typically features vintage cars, returns for a third edition in 2023. Two sub-events are added for the Classic as the Authentic Codriver Challenge seeks to test vehicles without standard navigational gear while the Iconic Classic Club is restricted to cars that participated in a Dakar Rally before 2000.
For the first time since 2006, the Rally will take place in two different calendar years as it begins on 31 December 2022 and ends on 15 January 2023. The race typically starts on 1 January at the soonest. Like in 2022, the event is the first round of the new World Rally-Raid Championship season.
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Sam Sunderland are the defending overall winners of the Cars and Bikes categories, respectively.