FERNANDO Alonso has long been admired as one of the world’s best F1 drivers.
But the quiet Spaniard has also competed with distinction in Indycars and sports cars as he pursues an ambition to be a winner in all three — and very different, kinds of motorsport.
He has twice won the world F1 crown, twice won the Le Mans 24 Hours, also the 24 Hours of Daytona and has now added marathon offroad rallying to his bucket list.
Alonso has just completed 700km in two days of training in Poland as part of his assault on the Dakar Rally in 2020.
He is expected in South Africa in the next few days where he will team up with previous Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers in a Toyota Gazoo HiLux for further development of the off-road driving skills needed to tackle one of motorsport’s most challenging events.
After a successful decade in Latin America, the 2020 Dakar will be held in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the event’s inception in 1978.
Toyotas has been a perennial favourite at the Dakar Rally, with privateer and works teams accounting for a quarter of total entries in the car category in the 2019 edition.
Last month Toyota said Alonso would be undergoing an intense training program to “familiarise himself with the challenging rigours of rally raid.”
Alonso completed a three-day desert test session in southern Africa in late August and he will be back in action in South Africa on September 13 and 14, when he will be a non-competitive participant in the Lichtenburg 400.
The 38-year-old took a test drive in a rally-prepared HiLux in March.
“We completed a successful two-day evaluation with Fernando in our Dakar-winning HiLux in southern Africa which proved to be a valuable learning experience,” Toyota team principal Glyn Hall said.
“Not only did Fernando thoroughly enjoy the experience, but we could see him adapt and improve every time he got behind the wheel.
“It was clear that Fernando came to the test prepared and was ready to absorb everything we showed him.
“Rally raid is new to him and I’m certain he has the skill and spirit to take on this challenge.
“As reigning Dakar champions with a long history in rally raid, I’m confident we can work well together with Fernando to build up his confidence for rally raid competition over the next few months.
“Next week, we leave the relative comfort of a private test setting, to give Fernando a first taste of a rally raid competition environment at the Lichtenburg 400.
“We are grateful to the South African Cross Country Series for the special dispensation allowing Toyota Gazoo Racing to maximise this valuable opportunity in Fernando’s continuing training program.”
Alonso, who took his Le Mans victories with Toyota Gazoo, said he was excited to continue his adventure with the team.
“Together we have achieved so much since I first drove a Toyota in November 2017, with our two consecutive wins at Le Mans,” he said.
“I got a taste of off-road rallying earlier this year and it left me with a good feeling that I want to prolong.
“I knew it would be a totally different experience with a steep learning curve, but the HiLux just felt great; it gave me so much confidence so quickly and I was improving loop after loop. I’m really looking forward to the next few months of training.
“I’ve always maintained I want to pursue new challenges in different disciplines and I’m in a great team to do that.
“I welcome every kilometre in the HiLux and I’m happy we were able to push ourselves beyond the team’s original plans.”
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