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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi believes home advantage will give him the edge over the likes of two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso when the Dakar Rally gets underway on Sunday.
The 38-year-old racer told a Jeddah press-conference gathering of 13 of the event’s top participants, that he felt optimistic about winning despite the presence of a host of motorsport and Dakar legends.
“It is tough to be among such sporting figures but that does not mean that I can’t get there,” said Al-Rajhi.
Spaniard Alonso is aiming to create history by becoming the first F1 championship winner to secure victory in the grueling 12-day Dakar Rally, being staged in the Kingdom for the first time. “It is a big challenge for me competing with such big names here in Saudi Arabia, but I am determined to be on top as I am participating in Dakar Rally for the first time,” he said.
Alonso, also 38, who entered the five-day AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally with Toyota a month ago, added that he was fully prepared for the world-famous race and hoped that Saudi Arabia would bring him luck.
Two-time Dakar winner, Carlos Sainz, 57, told the media briefing held at the Hilton hotel in Jeddah, that he was all ready to take on the challenge of the Kingdom’s desert dunes and off-road tracks.
The Spanish driver, who recently participated in the Sharqiya rally, has his sights firmly set on a Jan. 17 victory. He said: “I am glad that I came to this country and trained before the Dakar Rally, and I am looking forward to getting a good result despite my age compared to other young participants.”
Meanwhile, 54-year-old Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel, who has won the race 13 times, said: “Dakar Saudi Arabia holds more than one surprise and this year it will be tough for the drivers, not only testing their vehicles but also their ability to face the Saudi dunes over 12 rounds.”
He pointed out that he was looking for a place on the winners’ podium and hoped to show his quality as a competitor.
Qatar’s double former champion, Nasser Al-Attiyah, lauded Saudi Arabia for bringing the prestigious race to the region. “I just want to praise Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, for his effort in hosting the Dakar Rally here in Asia and for me I hope that I can win my third title.”
Speaking to Arab News after the conference, Prince Abdul Aziz said: “Hosting such a huge event shows that Saudi Arabia is capable of attracting the best events in the world and of hosting great champions.
“We are looking forward to a great competition and hope that everyone finishes the rally safely,” he added.
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