Start your engines: Dakar Rally 2020 shifts into gear on Sunday
Battle royale expected in the dunes of Saudi Arabia in a field that includes SA's Giniel de Villiers and former F1 champion Fernando Alonso
The 42nd edition of the Dakar Rally gets under way in Saudi Arabia on Sunday January 5, with Toyota and Mini expected to fight for victory in a field that includes a former Formula One world champion.
The iconic race gets under way in Jeddah, in its first visit to the Middle East after having been staged in South America for the past 11 years.
Spearheading the attack in the SA-built Hiluxes of Toyota Gazoo Racing will be defending champions Nasser Al Attiyah (Qatar) and co-driver Mathieu Baumel (France).
Former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers will uphold SA hopes in another Hilux, with Spaniard Alex Haro Bravo as his navigator. The South African claimed victory at the 2019 Rally of Morocco, and has the advantage of regularly testing the vehicle in the local cross-country championship (SACCS). The Stellenbosch driver is hungry for more silverware.
Other South Africans in the rally include Stuart Gregory, Wessel Bosman, Kirsten Landman, Aaron Mare, and Calheine Perry in the motorcycle class, and Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger in the car category.
The most prominent new entrant in this year's field will be former two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso, with co-driver Marc Coma in an all-Spanish pairing. The pair have spent months preparing for the race, and while Alonso has said he still has a lot to learn, he has shown good pace in the car.
The fourth Hilux will be driven by Bernhard ten Brinke (Netherlands), teamed up with Belgium’s Tom Colsoul.
Toyota's biggest challenge will come from the nine-car Mini team which includes record Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel. The Frenchman, looking for his 14th success at the Dakar (he's won six times on a motorcycle and seven times on four wheels) will be navigated by Portugal's Paulo Fiuza.
Peterhansel had originally planned to contest the 2020 race with his wife Andrea Peterhansel (Germany) in the co-driver seat, but she has been forced to sit this rally out on health grounds.
Another victory contender in the Mini JCW Buggy is two-time Dakar winner and former world rally champion Carlos Sainz (Spain) and his Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz.
Among those tackling the iconic event in the four-wheel drive Mini JCW Rally are Jakub ‘Kuba’ Przygonski (Poland) and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk, as well as Orlando Terranova (Argentina) and Bernardo ‘Ronnie’ Graue (Argentina).
The official entry list consists of 351 vehicles comprising cars, motorcycles, quads, trucks, and side-by-sides, and 557 competitors representing 53 nationalities.
The 2020 Dakar Rally consists of 12 stages, with the route following roughly 7,500km from Jeddah to Al-Quiddia via the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, where the competitors will have a rest day. The rally ends on January 17.