Isidre Esteve is about to start his fifth Dakar Rally, his third consecutive Dakar with the Repsol Rally Team and his first in Asia. Esteve’s presence in Saudi Arabia has heightened expectations and his BV6 prototype with adapted controls on the steering wheel was one of the top attractions at the start podium ceremony that took place on Saturday in Jeddah.
Shortly before 5 p.m. local time, Esteve and his co-pilot Txema Villalobos got onto the Dakar 2020 starting podium, located in North Corniche, in their all-terrain number 325. Esteve was very thankful for the warm welcome he received. “The atmosphere is fantastic, both in the Village and in the podium area. This is the best way to start a new Dakar teeming with appeal”, he said.
Esteve and the other members of the Repsol Rally Team arrived in Jeddah from Barcelona on Thursday after a brief layover in Istanbul. Immediately after landing, the team went to the spectacular King Abdullah stadium, where the rally has set up its operations centre. There, they were reunited with their vehicle and performed a brief shakedown to ensure that it was in perfect condition after a long journey at sea.
After a short test, the T1.2 class BV6 (4x4 modified all-terrain diesel vehicle) passed the checks without issue. Next, Esteve and Villalobos attended the traditional welcome meeting. “It was a very complete briefing, with a lot of useful information. Details were provided on the most significant changes to this year’s race. It’s easy to see that everyone here is very excited for this Dakar to be special”, the driver said.
Dakar 2020 is made up of 7800 kilometres, 5000 of which are timed, divided into 12 stages. Esteve, qualifying 21st in the last two competitions, said “There are a lot of unknowns, although it is clear that navigation will play a bigger role than in previous years and that might be to our benefit. I’m optimistic because I have a really good feeling and we're arriving with our homework done and ready to fight to get into the top 15, although we shouldn’t forget that the competition will be tougher than ever”.
The first stage takes place on Sunday, starting in Jeddah and finishing in Al Wajh, after 433 km of liaison and a 319 km timed special. The Repsol Rally Team member said, “The organization has insisted that there would be no rest days. The first day will be challenging and require a lot of navigation. It will be a long start involving all kinds of terrain: from dunes to fast tracks and rocky areas. We’ll need to drive carefully because the most important thing these first few days is knowing how to handle the race, finding your pace, and not making mistakes”.