Alonso ramps up Dakar Rally prep with Toyota

Mark Scott
Fernando Alonso's not leaning towards a F1 return

Fernando Alonso’s plans for 2020 are taking shape following the announcement of a five-month testing programme with Toyota ahead of possible debut run at the Dakar Rally next January.

Alonso’s name has been circling around the Formula 1 rumour mill over the course of this season, but he looks set to turn his full attention to the legendary Dakar Rally.

The two-time World Champion will be testing out Toyota’s Dakar-spec Hilux before going racing at the Harrismith 400 cross country race in South Africa next month.

“I’m really excited to continue my adventure with Toyota Gazoo Racing,” Alonso said.

“Together we have achieved so much since I first drove a Toyota in November 2017, with our two consecutive wins at Le Mans, the World Endurance Championship for the team and a drivers’ title with my team-mates Sebastien [Buemi] and Kazuki [Nakajima].

“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, getting to know the Hilux and working with the team.

“I’ve always maintained I want to pursue new challenges in different disciplines and I’m at a great team to do that.”

Alonso has the option to pull out of the Dakar Rally programme completely if he feels that he is not prepared enough to tackle the legendary race.

Check out the latest Formula 1 gossip via our dedicated rumours section.

But Gazoo SA team boss Glyn Hall is optimistic that the proposed plan will give the Spaniard all the confidence he needs to compete in the early stages of next year.

“In March this year, we completed a successful two-day evaluation with Fernando in our Dakar-winning Toyota Hilux in Southern Africa, which proved to be a valuable learning experience,” 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 for Fernando 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.”

A four-day test on the coast on Namibia starting from Tuesday will kick off a preparation programme that will take place “in Europe, Africa and the Middle East”.

More rallies are reportedly in the pipeline for Alonso later in the year.

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