Fernando Alonso gears up for Dakar with expanded Toyota test programme
Fernando Alonso and Toyota Gazoo Racing have confirmed they will expand their "intensive training programme" for the Dakar Rally.
Although Alonso has yet to confirm his Dakar plans, it's expected he and Toyota will link-up for an entry for the 2020 running of the famous off-road endurance event, which will for the first time ever be run in Saudi Arabia.
The expanded test programme will see the two-time Formula 1 World Champion and Le Mans winner testing a Toyota Hilux across Europe, Africa and the Middle East to continue familiarising himself with the challenges he's likely to face in the Dakar Rally.
The 38-year-old will start with a non-competitive outing at the Harrismith 400 in South Africa – the fifth round of the South African Cross Country Series – in mid-September.
"I’m really excited to continue my adventure with Toyota Gazoo Racing," said the Spaniard. "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 Sébastien and Kazuki.
"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."
Team principal Glyn Hall added: "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."