I must confess that I was really curious about the Dakar this year as it was taking place in a new country and culture, and with a totally different route to what we are used to in South America. But after these last few days I have been pleasantly surprised on all levels.
In sporting terms, everything has been great, both technically and because we have seen some extraordinary scenery. We can see the positive influence of the new organisation, led by David Castera, with some special stages that reminded me of Morocco and Mauritania. Without a doubt, this year the Dakar has gone back to its roots.
The roadbook was another secret, and was also a pleasant surprise. Giving it to us in the morning puts us all on an equal footing in terms of navigation. The competitors were scared to see how the route was signposted but, when the moment arrived, the truth is that the information was very comprehensive and correct. The work of the ouvriers Thierry Magnaldi and Jean-Paul Cottret, true Dakar veterans, offers full guarantees in this sense.
With this new system, the Dakar puts navigation back in the spotlight, an aspect that had lost much importance in recent years due to the helping hand of technology. I hope that this change with the roadbook continues in the future, as it was a really good idea.
We can see the extremely tight general car standings, with just 24 seconds between the leader, Carlos Sainz, and the second place driver, Nasser Al-Attiyah. I’m sure that it will be closely-fought right up to the finish, and I think the race will be nail-biting until the last day. But... careful with tomorrow’s stage. It will be the first part of the marathon stage in the south of the country, with beautiful dunes that could cause some surprises in the standings.
Personally, I’m really pleased that I got to enjoy the start of this new era for the Dakar, marked by many changes that aim to raise the level of the competition. All of these changes have been well received by competitors, and in the camp all you can hear is positive comments.
The country has also pleasantly surprised me with its varied landscapes and beautiful scenery. It’s got broken terrain, as well as many dunes that are very similar to those in the Dubai Rally, as we are so close.
On a social level, I can only say that everything has seemed very normal and different to what I expected. I have felt very welcome in Saudi Arabia and I haven’t had any problems because I’m from another country. I think just the fact that we can say everything feels normal is a real success.
That's why I think the Dakar has a long future in Saudi Arabia, a place where the race may settle for a few years.