Ha’il Rally

An international sport event hosted in Saudi Arabia

Yazeed Al-Rajhi's Hummer at the Ha'il Rally

Yazeed Al-Rajhi's Hummer at the Ha'il Rally

People of the Desert

The people of Saudi Arabia have their origins in the desert. Even though the vast majority of the population now reside in cities and towns, there is still an immense fondness for evenings spent under the stars, away from the ever expanding city centres, with groups of friends gathering to do some of the things Saudis hold dear: making kabse over the fire, grilling BBQ, drinking tea and coffee, staying up and talking into the early hours of the morning.

Tea and coffee in the desert at the Ha'il Rally

Tea and coffee in the desert at the Ha'il Rally

Modern Saudi Arabia has embraced car culture, and in the cities a day doesn’t pass without a person seeing first hand Saudi youth trying to pull some tricks with a family sedan – a practice which is frowned upon by most, except the perpetrators, as being dangerous to those who are performing such stunts as well as to other motorists and their families.

Motorsports in the Desert

Unique landscape at the Ha'il Rally

Unique landscape at the Ha'il Rally

In response to these feelings, it makes sense for there to be an outlet incorporating both elements, and the Ha’il Rally was the first motorsports event in the kingdom to seize the initiative.

The first rally was in 2006, and is held annually. Since then it has been run as an official FIA Baha competition, part if the world championship, as well as a more locally focused event. The popularity increases every year and has proven a major boost to tourism in a region which for many years was overlooked in comparison with other parts of Saudi Arabia.

Boy Scouts saluting King Salman at the Ha'il Rally

Boy Scouts saluting King Salman at the Ha'il Rally

Safety First

Before the action starts there is a thorough scrutineering process, which sees international experts (who are involved with various Formula 1 events) checking the vehicles to make sure they comply to strict safety standards (as laid down by the world motorsport governing body, the FIA) as well as to engine specifications according to which class the vehicle will be competing in.

Checking helmet specifications at the Ha'il Rally

Checking helmet specifications at the Ha'il Rally

Spectator stage at the Ha'il Rally

Spectator stage at the Ha'il Rally

A Motorsports Extravaganza

Spectator stage at the Ha'il Rally

Spectator stage at the Ha'il Rally

The first day of racing is a showcase for the spectators. The teams drive a course of between four and six kilometers, aiming to finish in the quickest possible time to gain the best starting position for the desert stages.

At the start of the desert stage of the Ha'il Rally

At the start of the desert stage of the Ha'il Rally

The next few days sees the drivers speeding over the desert course, checking in at the waypoints, and returning to the service park in the afternoon.

Making sure to cross a waypoint during the desert stage of the Ha'il Rally

Making sure to cross a waypoint during the desert stage of the Ha'il Rally

Getting airborne at the Ha'il Rally

Getting airborne at the Ha'il Rally

A desert course is not an easy one to navigate. Teams are provided with road books showing the exact route they are supposed to take, and must not rely on GPS. (There are strict penalties for those who try.) The navigator must be alert constantly to make sure the waypoints are driven through (again, there are penalties for missed waypoints), and to make sure the vehicle sticks to the prescribed route, and doesn’t risk an accident by jumping a sand dune or crashing into rocks that are obscured from view. The drivers are not out for a weekend cruise, they travel at speeds in excess of 100 km/h for parts of the course.

Don't misjudge the bumps at the Ha'il Rally

Don't misjudge the bumps at the Ha'il Rally

International Talent

With a reputation that heightens every year, the Ha’il Rally attracts professionals involved in regional and international championships (the 2011 winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah came fresh from having won the Dakar Rally and is now competing successfully in the World Rally Championship) as well as talented and enthusiastic locals.

Nasser Al-Attiyah in his Dakar Rally winning VW at the Ha'il Rally

Nasser Al-Attiyah in his Dakar Rally winning VW at the Ha'il Rally

Abdullah Bakhashab at the Ha'il Rally

Abdullah Bakhashab at the Ha'il Rally

KSA produces some talented drivers. Both Abdullah Bakhashab (now retired) and Yazeed Al-Rajhi (currently enjoying a string of rally successes) are well known faces at the Ha’il Rally.

Yazeed Al-Rajhi (centre) with the Governor of Ha'il Province after winning the Ha'il Rally

Yazeed Al-Rajhi (centre) with the Governor of Ha'il Province after winning the Ha'il Rally

Trying to get closer to the action at the Ha'il Rally

Trying to get closer to the action at the Ha'il Rally

There are areas in the desert stages where spectators can view the racing, but safety comes first and these areas have to be closely monitored to ensure no lives are endangered. That said, there are always a few people who prefer to get a closer view, and the local police take great joy in pursuing such groups and shepherding then to safety.

Official Support

Ha'il Rally HQ is based in the Governor's recreational facility

Ha'il Rally HQ is based in the Governor's recreational facility

The rally has the full support of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (who actually organize the racing component) as well as the Governor of Ha’il and his family. It is a huge boost to the local economy, as flights, hotels and restaurants are booked out like no other time of the year.

Ha'il Rally closing ceremony is held in the Governor's recreational facility

Ha'il Rally closing ceremony is held in the Governor's recreational facility

Every year there are more side events added: hill climbs, drag racing, local market, vehicle experiences, just to name a few. For the 10th Anniversary the Royal Saudi Air Force even flew a display at the official opening.

The RSAF Hawks perform a fly past at the opening of the Ha'il Rally (credit: http://www.scalemodellingnow.com/waddington-international-airshow-2012)

The RSAF Hawks perform a fly past at the opening of the Ha'il Rally (credit: http://www.scalemodellingnow.com/waddington-international-airshow-2012)

The Ha’il Rally is one of the largest, most successful events in the kingdom. It is an opportunity to see some skilful racing, and to experience some authentic local culture, and is well worth a visit even for a couple of days.

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An international sport event hosted in Saudi Arabia (author: Andy Conder)

About the Author

Andy Conder has lived in Saudi Arabia for over six and a half years. During that time he has travelled to the north, south, east and west of the country, over the sand dunes and under the water. "Whilst Riyadh is the place to be for work, it is only when people get out to the more provincial and desert areas that they will see Saudi Arabia in its true splendour. Most people who arrive for the first time have no idea of the variety of life in the kingdom." Having been involved with restaurants in London, and having reviewed establishments in Cape Town and Dubai, Andy is knowledgeable about what people want when they go out to eat, and he is happy to guide people through the confusing array of restaurants that are found in Saudi Arabia.

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