For the first time ever, the famous Dakar Rally takes place in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia hosting the race, which features some 550 competitors from around the globe racing across the desert, covering about 7,500 kilometers over 12 days, news site Arab News reports.
Dakar Rally was held in South America between 2009 and 2019. Prior to that, the competition held in Africa but was relocated after terrorist threats in Mauritania in 2008.
The competition began in Jeddah on January 5 and will continue until racers reach the finish line in Riyadh on January 17.
Saudi Arabia says that it has increasingly opened its doors to international tourism and world-class sports and entertainment events recently, in order to diversify the countryʼs economy.
According to aawsat.com, Chairman of Saudi Arabiaʼs General Sports Authority Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal said that the rally will help showcase the austere kingdomʼs tourism potential.
"With the launch of the Dakar Rally here in the Kingdom, the world will see the picturesque nature of our country and its wonderful desert," he told reporters in Qiddiya, close to Riyadh. "The world will come closer than ever to the people of the hospitable Kingdom (that is) looking forward to welcoming the world."
At the time of writing, veteran Spanish racer Carlos Sainz stands at the top of the table in the car category, ahead of Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah, and French competitor Stéphane Peterhansel, according to Eurosport.com. Former F1 pilot Fernando Alonso is currently in 18th place.