Collin Matiza Sports Editor
ACE Zimbabwe motor rally driver, Conrad Rautenbach and biker Graeme Sharp, are set to fly the Zimbabwean flag at what is probably the toughest motor racing sport in the world — the Dakar Rally — in Saudi Arabia next month.
The 2020 Dakar Rally will be hosted by Saudi Arabia for the first time this year after the organisers decided to move it from Latin America to the rich Middle East country.
The 2020 Dakar Rally has been slated to run from January 5 to 17 and Zimbabwe will, for the second time in the history of this gruelling 13-day motor rallying event, be represented by one of its top motor rally drivers Rautenbach.
He made his debut at this competition in 2017 in the vehicles section.
He will be joined by 33-year-old biker Sharp as Zimbabwe fields two competitors for the first time in the history of the Dakar Rally.
It is the most challenging rally event on earth and second biggest motorsports competition after the World Formula One (F1) Championship.
Sharp will be riding an all-new KTM 450 Rally Replica bike during next month’s Dakar Rally.
Rautenbach (35), who formerly competed in the World Rally Championship, made his presence felt during his debut appearance in the Dakar Rally in 2017 where he finished in ninth place in the vehicles section with the assistance of his South African co-driver Robert Howie.
He is now set to have a second dance with the Dakar Rally next month in Saudi Arabia where he will be having Portuguese Pedro Bianchi Prata as his co-driver.
They will be behind the wheel of PH Sport’s Zephyr for its first Dakar Rally entry.
Rautenbach and Bianchi Prata recently wrapped up 15 days of testing their Zephyr in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, and they both indicated they were raring to go in next month’s Dakar Rally.
In 2012, Sharp completed his first rally event in Reno Nevada, United States.
The following year, he had the opportunity to follow the Dakar Rally through South America as a member of a support crew which was a defining moment and cemented his ambition to race the actual event himself.
In 2017 he started the qualifying process with the Baja Rally in Mexico where he finished 11th overall in his very first rally event.
Sharp is part of the BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team which is based in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, organisers of the 12-day marathon through the Arabian Desert, which starts on January 5, have admitted they have no qualms about bringing one of motor racing’s most gruelling adventure rallies to the Gulf kingdom, which has been under fire for alleged human rights abuses.
But Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Saud, head of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority, said the race would help spotlight attractions as the ultraconservative kingdom opens up to international tourists amid a push to boost non-oil revenue.
“With the launch of the Dakar Rally here in the kingdom, the world will see the picturesque nature of our country and its wonderful desert,” Prince Abdulaziz recently said.
“The world will come closer than ever to the people of the hospitable kingdom (that is) looking forward to welcoming the world.” The 2020 Dakar will set off from Jeddah and end 7 800km away in Qiddiya. The race, involving more than 550 drivers from around the world, will pass through a host of sites, from NEOM, a US$500 billion futuristic megacity under construction, to the heritage site of Al-Ula and the sand dunes of the vast Empty Quarter desert.
In September, Saudi Arabia began offering tourist visas for the first time.