The route of the 2022 edition of the Dakar was presented on Tuesday. It will take place in Saudi Arabia for the third time.
In January 2022, the Dakar rally will offer a course with more dunes for a 3rd edition in Saudi Arabia, which should not escape criticism relating to the failings of the Gulf kingdom in terms of human rights.
From the start on January 2 in Hail, in the north, until the arrival on January 14 in Jeddah (west), the Dakar 2022 will offer a course with more sand, especially in the south-eastern quarter of the country, this immensity of dunes nicknamed the “Empty Quarter”.
“We’re going to explore places we haven’t fully explored, with an emphasis on sand and dunes,” David Castera, Dakar director, told AFP.
In the “Empty Quarter”, the crews will be entitled to a marathon stage, that is to say “old-fashioned” without assistance, during two exclusively sandy days. This may be where the succession of Stéphane Peterhansel will be played out, winner for the 14th time in 2021.
“If we go looking for sand, that’s good news”, assures the French pilot, “there will be a selection on the crossing capacities but also off-piste navigation”.
As in 2021, the crews will discover the special of the day just before the start on electronic tablets, generalized to all the cars and trucks part and installed for the elite category of motorcycles.
The competitors will be transferred to Riyadh (by planes for the crews) for the rest day on January 8 before reaching Jeddah, the port of the Red Sea where the start was given in 2020 and 2021, and which hosted the arrival of this latest edition.
Another country in 2023?
For the fourth year in a row, the Dakar will take place in a single country. The 2019 edition in Peru was the first since its creation in 1978 not to cross borders.
“In the current conjuncture with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are unfortunately still forced to focus on Saudi Arabia. It is not very serious because there is everything you need, but in the spirit in the rally, we are in this process, ”explains Castera, former biker, Dakar sports director and co-driver.
“I think that from next year, there will be another country” on the program, he adds, citing “Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman … and why not one day all these countries together” .
After Africa (1978-2007) then South America (2009-2019), the Dakar arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2020, not without protests from NGOs denouncing the failings of the ultra-conservative kingdom in terms of human rights and in particular the repression of dissenting voices, including those of feminist activists.
Saudi Arabia has also been at the head of a military coalition since 2015 in support of the Yemeni government against the Houthi rebels, in a country where the worst humanitarian crisis in the world is raging according to the UN.
“We may be at the start of a change”
Sport, like tourism, participate in the plan to open up the kingdom, which seeks to improve its image and diversify its economy, which is highly dependent on oil. Thus, European football matches or boxing fights were organized, before the first Formula 1 Grand Prix next December.
“I want to believe in their openness, assures Castera, at least now there are Westerners, tourist visas, there are women who ride the Dakar, women who drive. We are perhaps at the beginning of ‘a change”.
The other change, initiated by the Dakar, is that of environmental awareness. From 2022, a new category will emerge, reserved for 100% electric or hybrid cars and trucks, with the arrival of the manufacturer Audi.
Two milestones have been set: in 2026, the switch from the twenty best cars and trucks (elite category) to low-emission prototypes, then in 2030, the switch to all categories and therefore the end of heat engines.
“The challenge is that our cars are the cars of tomorrow that can cross a desert in one go with clean technologies, in tune with the times”, explains Castera, for whom the future of the Dakar will depend on green hydrogen.