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  • Hilary McCormack

Dakar Rally 2023

Updated: Jan 27

Friday, January 6th, 2023: Marhaba to the now annual Saudi Dakar Rally and to a wet and wild start to the year.

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One tire coming off, a smashed window screen and still they drove on to the petrol stop.

It rained Irish-style across Riyadh on January 6th and 7th. Despite the stormy conditions, we set off from home, hoping the weather would clear as the day wore on. We were a group of more than fourteen cars (divided into three groups) who left Riyadh in a thunderstorm at about 5.30 am.

2023 Dakar Rally Route

Our mission was to head north to intersect with Stages six and seven of the Dakar Rally race, which was close to Ad Dawadimi on those particular days.


This area is located 320 kilometers from the capital but is still part of Riyadh Province. The Ad Dawadimi area is on a higher elevation and is quite central on the map of Saudia Arabia. The tribe of Banu 'Utaybah primarily inhabits that area. I expected to see them out in force to welcome the drivers and riders or to offer those of us who might end up in a jam a pull-out. The Saudis are extremely helpful in testing moments like that and are usually delighted and somewhat bemused to find us in their own backyard.


While there was torrential rain in Riyadh, about an hour and a half north, the clouds cleared, and a warm sun appeared. 2023 was my second Dakar Rally and my first driving to follow the race. Quite frankly, I was a bit nervous setting off; I had to master my Pajero and the terrain, catch the unique photo moments that such a trip presents and keep pace with the rest of our group.



And, of course, most importantly, I had to keep my nerve when faced with a signification dune climb to get to a spectator's viewing point.



The rain offered us some advantages, in so far as the desert terrain was slightly denser underfoot and tire! These conditions would afford me fewer chances of getting stuck in the sand along the way.



We had hoped that camping north of the Al Zufli area would give us a jump start for Saturday's viewing. However, this year's rather inclement weather impacted the race, with a few detours and some cancellations to various sections of the event.


During the night in our tents, the temperature went down to 4C, according to my weather app, but there was no rain. The only moisture was the early morning dew glistening on our tents.

Early morning dew in the desert.

On the second day, we mobilized early and headed toward the Al Rayn area, which brought us around in a big loop southwest of our starting point.


Green shoots coming to life in the desert

Overall, we traveled over 1100 Kilometers beginning early on Friday morning and returning to our base in Riyadh on Saturday evening. We saw some very interesting countryside, including rain-drenched, rolling dunes as far as the eye could see and large areas of newly formed wetlands.


Photo Credit Ivo Riyadh Rovers

Happily, there were no embarrassing stuck moments for me, but I did collect a speeding fine! This admission was greeted with a chorus of good-humored laughter… as the irony of chasing the Dakar Rally and ending up with a speeding fine was too much.



Reading selection: Dakar Rally 2022 and Dune Driving


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