‘Dakar is in our backyard,’ says two-time Saudi rally participant

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: Saudi Arabian rally driver Yasir bin Saidan (No. 324) is back to hit the dunes in the T1 class in the 43rd edition of the Dakar Rally this weekend.

The 43-year-old cross country world champion in the T2 and T3 classes is participating for the third time in the new 2020 Mini Cooper CountryMan for the X-Raid team and is “more than ready” for what lies ahead.

“I’ve participated in many rallies around the world — Kazakhstan, Morocco, the Emirates, Europe as well as touring around Saudi for years. The great thing about Dakar this year is that it’s going to be 65 percent sand and dunes, something which we (Saudis) know more about and excel at,” he told Arab News.

“We’re used to the terrain and it’s part of our nature as drivers. I’ve been hitting the dunes since I was 8-years-old on a quad, we have the skills and the knowledge of the terrain.”

He first participated in the rally in 2014, in the T3 with an RZR 900 Polaris, but dropped out at the fifth stage. He returned to participate in the T2 class in 2016 with a different vehicle, winning third place.

When the ambitious driver found out that Dakar was coming to Saudi Arabia for the first time, he told Arab News how the prospect seemed surreal to him, and that it was the dream of any driver to participate, but there was an added advantage racing in your home country.

“We trained hard and prepared ourselves for this, any smart driver knows what to do, but personally, it’s like hitting two birds with one stone. Dakar in Saudi Arabia, this is home.”

His choice of vehicle for this race is a Sports Utility, and as Bin Saidan explains: “It thick build allows it to endure the difficult terrain.

“Strategy for Dakar is different to other rallies,” he explained. “It’s a grueling 12-day ride, requires a lot of patience and calm. I expect the MiniCooper to be very able in handling the terrain, but it all falls back to me as a driver and my strategy. My aim is to finish the rally in a top position.

“This is in our back yard, our home,” he added,  saying he felt that knowledge would give him an edge over competitors.

Bin Saidan believes that the most difficult part of the rally will be the first week, as drivers will face many mountain ranges and valley terrain.

The Dakar Rally is the toughest and most dangerous rally race in the world, and tests driving skills and endurance.

“Personally, rocks and mountain ranges are going to be difficult — the cars are more susceptible to damage than to sand,” he said. “My years of driving in the Empty Quarter and other areas gained me enough experience. All I need to do is focus, ensure that I drive safe and smart so the car won’t break down and, hopefully, all will be well after that.”

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