Two-times winner Carlos Sainz said he looked forward to tackling the dunes and deserts of Saudi Arabia next year as Dakar Rally organisers presented the 'third chapter' of their endurance event recently.
The 2020 edition will be held entirely in the kingdom, starting in Jeddah on January 5 and ending in Al-Qiddiya near Riyadh on Jan.17 after 12 stages and 9000km of competitive running.
The route will take in the mountains to the north and the Rub al Khali, or 'Empty Quarter', desert region in the south of the country with dunes more than 250 metres high.
Saudi Arabia will become the 30th country visited by the Dakar.
"I think all of us are very excited. It is perfect timing for (organisers) ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) and Saudi Arabia to join forces and bring this new chapter of the Dakar," Sainz told the presentation in Al-Qiddiya.
"We are going to go back to probably places and a landscape where the Dakar belongs more. I hope honestly to be at the start of next year's Dakar," added the Spaniard, whose son races in Formula One with McLaren.
The Dakar started in 1977 as a race from Paris and across the Sahara desert to the Senegalese capital in West Africa and has long been regarded as the world's toughest motorsport challenge.
It has been staged in South America since 2009, and entirely in Peru last year, after leaving Africa for security reasons. Next year's edition will be the first in the Middle East.
Rally director David Castera said the time had come to enter uncharted territory.
"Here, in the largest state in the region, we can let our imagination run riot with the infinite possibilities for a tough, balanced and varied course," he said.
Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel said the new Dakar would be a double challenge in an unfamiliar setting and with wife Andrea as his co-driver.
"I did 20 Dakars in Africa and 11 in South America, so the story of the Dakar is to discover new countries and new landscapes," added the record 13-times winner. "I am really happy to be here for the next one.
"For sure ASO will probably organise the best Dakar here."
Last year's winner Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar, now a three-times Dakar champion, is competing in the Jordan round of the Middle East Rally Championship and was not at the presentation.Reuters