A man from Bideford is set to realise a lifelong dream as he prepares to take on one of the toughest rallies in the world.

Neil Hawker will be on the start line in Jeddah on January 5.Neil Hawker will be on the start line in Jeddah on January 5.

Neil Hawker will be on the start line of the Dakar Rally when it kicks off in Jeddah on January 5.

The renowned off-road endurance rally will see competitors travel 7,500km across 12 stages before finishing in Qiddiya on January 17.

It's the first year the rally has been held in Saudi Arabia, and 75 per cent of the rally will be over sand.

The 36-year-old said he can't wait to get to the start line.

Neil Hawker is preparing to take on Dakar 2020. Picture: Brett ShelferNeil Hawker is preparing to take on Dakar 2020. Picture: Brett Shelfer

"Dakar is the ultimate, and it's taken until now to get there," said Neil.

"I've had a four year plan where this is the goal and this is what I am aiming for.

"At the moment there has been so much going on in preparation it has all been a bit surreal.

"It has always been a dream since a young age, ever since growing up and seeing it. I've been around the sport all my life.

Neil Hawker is hoping for a podium finish in his class at Dakar 2020.Neil Hawker is hoping for a podium finish in his class at Dakar 2020.

"It's exciting and nervy. Once I get to the start line I think all the hard work is done, and I can do what I know I can do, which is ride a motorbike."

Neil will be racing his Husqvarna 450 Rally bike in the unsupported Original by Motul class, which means he will have no team around him for the daunting challenge.

He has spent some £60,000 to be race ready, and has had support from SR75 World Team.

He may be a first-time competitor at Dakar, but he has plenty of experience on two wheels.

Neil Hawker is preparing to take on Dakar 2020. Picture: Brett ShelferNeil Hawker is preparing to take on Dakar 2020. Picture: Brett Shelfer

Now working as an offroad instructor for Offroad Skills BMW, Neil served in the Army for 13 years and won multiple Armed Forces motorcycle titles, as well as serving in Iraq.

He has years of British Enduro Championships under his belt, and completed the Merzouga Rally in March to qualify for Dakar, despite breaking his shoulder.

Neil has also taken on a 24-hour endurance race to ensure he's mentally and physically strong before Dakar.

"The longest stage is 900km, and if you do that sort of distance in a car you're tired at the end of it," he said.

Neil Hawker is hoping for a podium finish in his class at Dakar 2020.Neil Hawker is hoping for a podium finish in his class at Dakar 2020.

"On that sort of terrain in becomes a real sort of challenge between yourself, the bike and the terrain.

"I've been doing a lot of long distance races to prepare. I did a 24-hour race in August on my own, and stuff like that just to keep mentally strong and physically strong.

"Once you have those two things you can overcome most problems."

As he prepares to realise a lifelong ambition, Neil is determined to do more than just get to the finish line on January 17.

"I've never entered a rally not to race it," he said.

"Definitely 100 per cent the goal is to finish, but I am a racer and want to do well.

"The top 20 people in Dakar are professionals and its something they get paid for, to do that one race.

"The top 30 are all great riders. I would like to be in that top 30 and in the originals class I would like to be on the podium.

"There's no reason why I can't be."

To follow Neil's progress, visit his Facebook page or his website.