Here we go. The realm of the dunes has been the focus of conversation for several months now. The Dakar entrants got a taste of the Empty Quarter three years ago, when the rally nibbled at the edges of the area. This year, the race is entering this vast expanse of sand for real over four days, starting with a dune-surfing warm-up stretching for 114 kilometres and containing almost nothing but toboggan runs.
As is to be expected in a sea of sand, after the end of the stage the Dakar Classic made its own way towards a bivouac near Haradh, where the caravan is about to settle down for the night in a camp without service crews. The competitors will adapt the rhythm of their evening to that of the desert in nomadic tents. As the Dakar gets ready to plunge into the Empty Quarter in its fourth edition in Saudi Arabia, memories of the fourth Paris–Dakar herald this great leap into the unknown. In Niger, the ninth stage of the 1983 Paris–Dakar made the rally’s first foray into the dunes in the “desert of deserts”. A sandstorm in the Ténéré scattered the caravan, in some cases for longer than 72 hours. It was an epic stage, one of those that planted a seed in the minds of those who watched it on the edge of their seats back then… and went on to enter the Dakar Classic this year.