How ASO managed to save the 2021 Dakar Rally

Dakar Rally organisers ASO explains how it managed to work within the strict confines of host country Saudi Arabia's coronavirus measures to ensure the running of the 2021 event

How ASO managed to save the 2021 Dakar Rally

The closure of land, sea and air borders of Saudi Arabia just 13 days before the start of the second Dakar in the Arabian Peninsula set off all the alarms at organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO).

But, in the face of the restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia to limit the spread of COVID-19, ASO managed to charter 18 flights to guarantee the presence of the competitors for the event.

In the middle of the Christmas holidays and with thousands of competitors, mechanics and other members of the Dakar bivouac worried about the cancellation of their flights to Jeddah, David Castera and his team - with the general coordinator, Thomas Cerf-Mayer, at the head - went to work to ensure no competitor would be left grounded because of the last minute measures of the Gulf kingdom.

In addition to their economic muscle and top-level contacts with the government of the country hosting the 43rd edition of the Dakar, ASO also had to be inventive.

A total of 18 charter aircraft were used to transport the participants and teams to Jeddah with special permits from Saudi Arabia on a total of 21 flights.

These replaced the commercial flights that a third of the total number of competitors (509 before technical and administrative checks on 1 & 2 January) and attendants had booked on their own.

ASO had planned 10 flights from Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Prague to transfer the remaining two thirds of the rally.

"These days they are thanking us even before the start, people came to think that there was no way to do this Dakar and now that they are here they are very happy," Castera told Autosport a few days before the start of the rally.

"If we are here it is because the Saudis wanted it. I saw the news very late, around 10:15pm on Sunday December 20.

"I immediately called my bosses and they told me that first thing the next morning we would be talking to our Saudi contacts.

"From the first moment they told us that the country was closed, but that if we could get the competitors there, there would be no problem. It was complicated, we had to find people to work in the middle of Christmas.

"We did a great job, but the night from Sunday to Monday was terrible".

Leading up to Christmas ASO managed to add another eight charter planes in just three days that departed from Dubai, Paris and Prague.

The all had to comply with the sanitary measures, being limited to 80 percent capacity and with a limited amount of cargo to avoid having to refuel.

One third of the competitors, crew and other members of the bivouac (around 700 people) were transferred there from 47 different countries.

The case of the British contingent was special, as thanks to the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team managed by Prodrive, who used a private plane, ASO was able to bring in the rest of the British members who had been left behind.

"Luckily, when the second confinement arrived we decided to charter and we already had 10 [planes], with more than half the competitors in them," Castera explained.

"The most complicated part was the initial transport to the charter, because there are 47 nationalities here.

"All those who are not here, it's because of COVID issues [including Ivan Jakes, fourth in bikes in the 2013 edition] and not because of transport, which was our goal."

When asked if he feared at any point that the Dakar would not be held or postponed, Castera stressed that the future of the raid depended on it continuing as planned. "The night of Sunday 20th to Monday 21st I thought 10,000 things, but as soon as we spoke with the Saudis I was reassured," Castera added.

"I'm always positive and I knew we could do it. There was no other option, because if there had not been this Dakar, it would have been very, very complicated for the teams after a year with almost no competition.

"A lot of teams would have fallen. It was also to save the rally-raid economy for the future."

KTM team manager Jordi Viladoms was one of many competitors who praised ASO for its swift action. "The truth is that we are all here and things are going in the right direction and ASO is to be congratulated, because with all the impediments and problems with the COVID-19 at an international level, bringing everyone here is almost a miracle.

"We are very grateful that they have been able to do so."

ASO's Christmas miracle will allow the 43rd edition of the Dakar to start on Saturday 2 January, with an 11km prologue stage before the first stage proper on Sunday 3 January.

shares
comments
Rally legend Sainz says Dakar 2021 between Toyota and X-raid Mini
Previous article

Rally legend Sainz says Dakar 2021 between Toyota and X-raid Mini

Next article

Toyota welcomes Dakar speed limit to prevent Mini "running away"

Toyota welcomes Dakar speed limit to prevent Mini "running away"
Injury, COVID, camels and redemption: A MotoGP star's Dakar odyssey Plus

Injury, COVID, camels and redemption: A MotoGP star's Dakar odyssey

Danilo Petrucci’s decision to switch to rallying at the conclusion of his time in MotoGP at the end of 2021 raised many eyebrows. Deciding to make his rally raid debut at the Dakar courted scepticism. With his debut almost over on several occasions before it began, Petrucci’s Dakar odyssey was a wild affair full of ups, downs and a run-in with a camel. He sat down with Autosport to reveal all

MotoGP
Jan 25, 2022
The positive future implications of Audi's creditable Dakar debut Plus

The positive future implications of Audi's creditable Dakar debut

OPINION: Audi has been a disruptive presence on the 2022 Dakar Rally, with its new hybrid RS Q e-tron taking three stage wins so far. Its impressive pace and resilience on one of the world’s toughest tests also bodes well for the Dakar’s future as it seeks to attract new manufacturers

Dakar
Jan 12, 2022
How Prodrive plans to use trial by Dakar to spur it to victory Plus

How Prodrive plans to use trial by Dakar to spur it to victory

Having tasted plenty of success in the World Rally Championship in the past, Prodrive took its off-road excursions to a new level with its first Dakar Rally entry this year. Now well-versed in the challenges that the famous rally-raid event possesses, Prodrive can learn from those lessons for next year's tilt at Dakar honours

Dakar
Jun 2, 2021
Why Loeb has joined forces with an old enemy for Dakar Plus

Why Loeb has joined forces with an old enemy for Dakar

The nine-time World Rally champion is heading to the Dakar Rally with an all-new project, and is joining up with the team he often fought against in the WRC - Prodrive - in his quest to finally add the most famed rally raid of them all to his bulging CV

Dakar
Dec 4, 2020
Richards on Prodrive's new Dakar challenge Plus

Richards on Prodrive's new Dakar challenge

With a stunning success record in motorsport, Prodrive is targeting a new crown by entering the 2021 Dakar Rally. David Richards provides an update on the programme, how COVID has slowed its plans and its options on who sits behind the wheel of its new car

Dakar
Jul 16, 2020
Why Alonso is already exceeding expectations in Dakar bid Plus

Why Alonso is already exceeding expectations in Dakar bid

How significant was Fernando Alonso's first cross-country rallying podium on a Saudi Arabian event last weekend? Very. The next leg of his post-F1 quest for versatile glory is going very well so far...

Dakar
Nov 12, 2019
What Alonso learned from his best Dakar test yet Plus

What Alonso learned from his best Dakar test yet

Double Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso took on one of his biggest challenges yet in the five-day Dakar warm-up event, Rally Morocco. Alonso gives his thoughts on his progress in a "bittersweet" event, and whether he will contest the Dakar

Dakar
Oct 10, 2019
Why Alonso must heed Loeb's Dakar failures Plus

Why Alonso must heed Loeb's Dakar failures

Fernando Alonso is edging closer to a Dakar debut, but he should take heed of the lessons rallying legend Sebastien Loeb has learned through several near-misses, despite his promising performances at the event

Dakar
Aug 22, 2019