Fernando Alonso races in SA this weekend at the Lichtenburg 400 offroad event. Picture: SUPPLIED
Fernando Alonso races in SA this weekend at the Lichtenburg 400 offroad event. Picture: SUPPLIED

Former two-time F1 world champion and Le Mans winner Fernando Alonso will be racing in SA this weekend as part of his preparations for next year’s Dakar Rally.

The 38-year-old Spaniard will be driving a Gazoo Toyota Hilux in a noncompetitive outing in the Lichtenburg 400, fifth round of the SA Cross Country off-road racing series, in the North West Province on Friday and Saturday.

It is part of Alonso’s intensive training programme to familiarise himself with rally raid racing ahead of his possible debut in the 2020 Dakar, which will take place in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

WE WERE ABLE TO DOUBLE THE MILEAGE FOR THIS TEST WHICH DEMONSTRATES HOW QUICKLY FERNANDO IS ACCLIMATISING

The driver, who looks to broaden his already remarkable motorsport career across multiple disciplines, has experimented with different types of terrain and recently also tested the Gazoo Hilux in Poland and Namibia.

The aim is for Alonso to contest the iconic Dakar marathon in 2020, but he reportedly has the option of backing out if he doesn’t feel sufficiently prepared in time for January’s event.

“We were able to double the planned mileage for this test which demonstrates just how quickly Fernando is acclimatising to the Hilux,” said team principal Glyn Hall.

“Rally raid is new for Fernando and I’m certain he has the skill and spirit to take on this challenge.”

Alonso said: “At this stage of my training, I welcome every kilometre in the Hilux. It’s really great to be part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing family and be given opportunities to try my hands at different types of motorsport. The Hilux has been really fun to drive and I’m enjoying every test.” 

Toyota are the reigning Dakar champions, with Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah winning this year’s event in Peru.


Vettel in danger of a race ban

Sebastian Vettel has lost some of his mojo recently and has not won a race for over a year. Picture: REUTERS
Sebastian Vettel has lost some of his mojo recently and has not won a race for over a year. Picture: REUTERS

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is in danger of heading towards a possible race ban after being penalised for dangerous driving in Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

In a race the four-time world champion would rather forget, the German driver was handed a three-point penalty for unsafely rejoining the track after spinning off and making contact with Lance Stroll in the Racing Point.

This brings Vettel’s penalty tally to nine, and if he amasses another three he would get automatically banned for one race.

Vettel was also handed a 10 second stop/go penalty for Sunday’s incident, which dropped him to the back of the field and he eventually finished 13th and out of the points. His self-inflicted misfortune in front of Ferrari’s home crowd contrasted sharply with that of his teammate Charles Leclerc, who won the race – his second in a row after winning the Belgian Grand Prix on September 1.

“I made a mistake and lost the car,” Vettel said afterwards. “After that, the race was a bit different. Coming back [on track], I knew there would be a gap but I struggled a little bit to get out ... I think I was stuck on the grass and lost a bit of momentum there and that took a little bit longer. I couldn’t see anything.”

The former champion has shown signs of cracking under pressure at times and hasn’t won a race since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix in August. Though Vettel is still considered Ferrari’s lead driver, the momentum is now with Leclerc after his two consecutive victories moved him past his teammate in this year’s title chase.

Leclerc is fourth in the championship with 182 points and Vettel fifth with 169, though with seven races remaining there is still time for the German to catch up. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton leads the championship on 284 points ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas (221) and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (185).

Asked after Sunday’s Monza Grand Prix whether he was falling out of love with the sport, Vettel replied: “No, not really, I haven’t. Of course I still love what I do, but surely when you’re not doing well what you know you can do well, you can’t be happy."”