(Marty) #1





As this issue of CAR goes on sale,
Fernando Alonso is due to be competing
in his first ever desert race as part of
his preparation for a possible entry in
January’s Dakar Rally. It’s the latest twist
in the utterly unpredictable post-F
career of the two-times world champion.
And it really could go either way.
Nobody’s disputing that he has the talent
and the ambition. He’s the reigning
World Endurance Champion, also has
a win under his belt in the Daytona 24
Hours and has won Le Mans twice,
including victory on his first attempt.
But then again, he failed to qualify for
this year’s Indy 500.
Plenty of rally drivers (Sainz, Loeb...)
have done well in the desert, but very
few drivers have taken the much bigger
step from circuit racing to rally raid.
The biggest name is not anyone from
F1, but Robby Gordon. The NASCAR
and IndyCar veteran has made repeated
attempts on the event since 2005,

climaxing with a third place in 2009.
Impressive, but bear in mind that
Gordon was an off-road racer before he
hit the big time on US circuits.
Alonso, by contrast, had an early
career that was karts and then open-
wheelers all the way – and nothing that
ever involved having to navigate.
But he has a secret weapon: Giniel de
Villiers. Who? That’ll be the four-time
South African touring car champion,
who managed an excellent fifth place
in his first Dakar in 2003 and then won
the event in 2009. De Villiers has been
mentoring Alonso as part of a major
push by Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division,
winners of the 2019 Dakar.
Alonso tested in South Africa in
March, and in August joined de Villiers
for more testing in Namibia in the race-
spec Hilux pick-up.
How did it go? Team principal Glyn
Hall said: ‘Fernando’s progress has been
astounding. It is clear that he has a huge
amount of talent, which he is putting
to good use during this transition from

tarmac to gravel and sand racing.’
De Villiers added: ‘Fernando is an
extremely quick learner, and he is
clearly a very talented driver. He quickly
adapted to the Hilux, and if he continues
to learn at this pace I feel confident that
he will be able to take on the rigours of
the Dakar Rally.’
Alonso himself noted: ‘I’m very happy
with my progress after [the Namibian]
test and am starting to understand
driving in the dunes a lot more. Thanks
to the tuition by Glyn and Giniel, we
made good progress. My mindset right
now is to approach the preparation as an
adventure and try to improve step by step
every time I jump in the car.’

The plan is to continue his training in
Europe, Africa and the Middle East and
to make a non-points-scoring race debut
in South Africa’s Harrismith 400 in mid-
September, the fifth round of the South
African Cross Country Series. How that
goes may determine whether he presses
ahead with a Dakar entry.
The two-week January 2020 contest
is being held in Saudi Arabia for the first
time, as the event continues its often
controversial tour of the warmer parts
of the planet. After terrorist threats
brought its 30-year African phase to an
end in 2008, it spent a decade in South
America, but that’s proved expensive for
teams and increasingly unpopular with
locals. Saudi Arabia is hosting Dakar
under its Vision 2030 scheme to reduce
its economic dependence on oil and
boost both tourism and its public image.

‘My mindset right now is
to approach the preparation
as an adventure’

will be put to
its toughest
test yet

Alonso’s GR-
prepped Hilux is
based on the 2019
Dakar winner

Ex-F1 champion eyes Dakar as his new challenge, with
Toyota pulling out all the stops to help. By Colin Overland

Formula 1, Le Mans,

Daytona... Dakar?
Free download pdf