Fernando Alonso prepares for Dakar Rally with five-month test programmeby Graham Keilloh on 20th August 2019
Desert testing and cross-country rallies are part of Fernando Alonso's Dakar preparation, as the F1 champion considers entering next January's rally
Images courtesy of Toyota
Fernando Alonso is stepping up preparations for next year's Dakar Rally with a series of tests and races over the next five months.
The two-time Le Mans winner and double Formula 1 champion is testing Toyota's Dakar-specification Hilux in southern African deserts this month. He will then compete in the Harrismith 400 cross country race in South Africa in September.
The five-month programme, described as "intensive" will then continue with tests in Europe and the Middle East, with the aim of developing Alonso's skills so that he can compete January's Dakar Rally, to be held in Saudi Arabia.
Alonso has not confirmed that he will drive in the event, with his performance in testing likely to influence the final decision.
He has already driven the 2019 Dakar-winning Toyota Hilux over two days earlier this year.
"I got a taste of off-road rallying earlier this year and it left me with a good feeling that I want to prolong," said Alonso.
"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's last Toyota Hilux test took place in March when he was alongside 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de Villers. The Spaniard drove in several loops including significant dunes. You can watch Alonso in action and hear his thoughts on the experience in the video above, released by Toyota.
He said that he found it both enjoyable and a learning experience. "It felt different, but interesting," Alonso said. "The car accepts a lot more punishment than I'm used to. But yeah it was good fun."
Glyn Hall, the team principal said: “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. 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."