'It felt incredible to drive' - F1 veteran Alonso tests Toyota's Dakar Hilux bakkie in SA

SA Dakar Champion Giniel de Villiers (left) poses with former F1 champion Fernando Alonso. Image: Motorpress
SA Dakar Champion Giniel de Villiers (left) poses with former F1 champion Fernando Alonso. Image: Motorpress

Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Fernando Alonso completed a two-day evaluation test at the wheel of a Dakar Rally-winning Toyota Hilux in South Africa from March 17-28.

Fernando, who currently leads the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) drivers’ standings alongside team-mates Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, spent two days learning the specific demands of rally raid during an exclusive test in the Kalahari Desert.

Toyota Africa organised the test in order for Fernando to experience rally raid for the first time. Former Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers, a regular competitor for the team, acted as Fernando’s mentor throughout the test.

Giniel de Villiers and Fernando Alonso

                                                                            Image: Motorpress

The Hilux, which won the 2019 Dakar Rally in the hands of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel in January, is powered by a 5-litre V8 engine capable of delivering 288kW/620Nm. Fernando drove the car on two lay-outs around the desert, one of 8km and the other of 17km.

Alonso said: "I followed the Dakar and thanks to Toyota Gazoo Racing I had the opportunity to come here to South Africa to test the Dakar-winning Hilux. I have tested different series and different cars these past couple of years and this was a great chance. It has been fun; certainly different to what I am used to driving, but very interesting. We built up speed slowly, learning lap after lap."

Dakar Rally Fernando Alonso
 

Alonso said: "It’s not easy to read the bumps and to know how much speed to carry but I became more confident each time. The Hilux feels great; it has good grip and balance, lots of power and impressive braking. It felt incredible to drive this car."

Fernando Alonso Toyota Dakar HIlux

                                                                        Image: Motorpress

Glyn Hall, Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Team Principle, said: "It has been a fantastic experience for the team to work with a driver of Fernando’s calibre. It’s easy to see why he has enjoyed so much success in circuit racing; he was very well prepared for this test and made a huge effort to learn as much as possible in the two days. 

Dakar Rally Fernando Alonso

                                                                                Image: Motorpress

Hall said: "Rally raid is a totally different discipline compared to circuit racing but Fernando made impressive progress and looked like he had a lot of fun in the process. I am proud that he chose to test a Toyota Hilux in South Africa and I hope it was a worthwhile experience for him."

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