The Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia is a shining example of the FIA’s policy on equality, diversity and inclusion, says the head of the world body
RIYADH: One of the current goals of the FIA is to open up the world of motorsport through policies that promote equality, diversity and inclusion.
This is the core mission of FIA President Ben Sulayem and his team, who want to ensure opportunities are provided to as many people as possible, regardless of gender, faith, origin and economic background. A key goal is to increase regional competitiveness and double participation in motorsport by 2025.
One of the platforms to promote this mission has been the Dakar Rally, which is currently taking place in Saudi Arabia and is considered one of the most popular motorsport events in the world.
The event has attracted a record 603 competitors, including 73 T1 crews, two T2 crews, 47 T3 light prototypes, 46 T4 SSVs, 56 trucks, 76 Dakar classic cars and 13 Dakar classic trucks.
There are competitors from 68 nations, which includes entries in the motorcycle class. France has the most with 143 representatives, followed by 83 from Spain and 75 from the Netherlands. But there are participants from South America, Africa, Australia, North America, Europe, the Middle East, and several Asian countries, including China, India, Japan, and Kyrgyzstan.
There were 150 rookie competitors in the grueling opening round of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship for the first time, and 54 women took part, including 20 in the Dakar Classic and five women-only race teams.
Ben Sulayem and Robert Reid, FIA Vice President for Sport, were welcomed by Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, President of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, as they arrived for a one-day visit to Riyadh. . The duo took a tour of the bivouac and met many of the leading crews, some of the younger competitors and female participants.
Many Saudi participants
“Everywhere you look in the Riyadh bivouac, you see diversity both in terms of technology and sustainability, but more importantly, diversity of culture, age and gender,” said Ben Sulayem.
“It’s really nice to see young drivers, both male and female, being given a chance. It is also encouraging to see the number of Saudi nationals, particularly young women, who play key roles in the organization of the Dakar Rally and other motorsport disciplines, not only as drivers and co-drivers, but also as project managers and engineers and many other roles. .
“Motorsport has given them an opportunity and it is an accurate reflection of the positive change that is taking place in the Kingdom and aligns very much with the FIA policy on equality, diversity and inclusion.”
Reid commented: “We’ve been walking around the camp, meeting some of the competitors, seeing two Saudi women competing alongside many other women, some very young competitors as well. There are teams like South Racing that are introducing academic programs to bring in competitors, but not just competitors, engineers, mechanics as well, from different areas of the world, from various backgrounds. And this is really what we need to see if we are to meet our goal of doubling participation in motorsport.”
The diverse nature of the Dakar has been highlighted in recent years and 2023 is no exception.
For example, 18-year-old Eryk Goczal is taking part in the Dakar for the first time as a member of the Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team, alongside his father Marek and uncle Michal in a three-car team. The rookie made history in the first week when he became the youngest Dakar stage winner. The Pole currently sits third in the T4 category, has won two stages and is well placed to fight for overall honors this week.
Also, the talented young American Seth Quintero participates in the T3 category, driving a Can-Am Maverick X3 as part of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BF Goodrich. Last year, he made history by winning a record 11 Dakar stages and currently sits third in his class, roughly an hour behind the leader with six stages still to go. He already has a stage win to his credit this time.
Rise of women drivers
The drivers have an impressive record on the Dakar and a long history of success. Germany’s Jutta Kleinschmidt rewrote the history books in 2001 when she became the first woman to win the event in a Mitsubishi Pajero, and now women compete in all classes.
This year reigning Extreme E champion Cristinia Gutierrez is riding as a member of the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team and places fourth in T3 on the rest day. She is also the highest ranked of all female drivers in the general classification.
German Annett Fischer and Swedish co-driver Annie Seel are an excellent fifth of the W2RC entrants in the same class on their X-raid Yamaha, while former FIA Bajas T3 World Champion Dania Akeel is ninth after recovering from an accident last week. UAE-based multi-talented Aliyyah Koloc is three places further behind her in Buggyra Racing.
Mashael Al-Obaidan was the first Saudi woman to obtain a racing license and also competes in the T3 category, where she is currently the fifth ranked woman behind Gutierrez, Anya Van Loon, Fischer and Camelia Liparoti. The Can-Am driver has been a regular on the FIA World and Middle East Baja Cup scene and is aiming for a top-20 finish in his class.
Meanwhile, in the T4 category, WRC star and Extreme E driver Molly Taylor is also causing a sensation in cross-country rallying. The Australian also overcame a crash in the first week to take seventh place among the W2RC contenders in her class. Van Loon from the Netherlands has followed her husband Erik into the sport and is doing well in the T3 category heading into week two.