Toyota Gazoo return as reigning champions when the Dakar Rally takes place in Saudi Arabia for the first time. Picture: SUPPLIED
Toyota Gazoo return as reigning champions when the Dakar Rally takes place in Saudi Arabia for the first time. Picture: SUPPLIED

“We are in Saudi Arabia so that Fernando and Marc can gain further experience during actual race conditions. The terrain and navigation will be similar to what our crews can expect early next year at the 2020 Dakar Rally, so every experience they gain here will prove invaluable in the new year,” said Glyn Hall, team principal at Toyota Gazoo Racing SA as they competed in the Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally early in November as part of Dakar preparations.

The Fernando that Hall is referring to is none other than two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who will be a part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA outfit when the Dakar commences on January 5 in Saudi Arabia.

The 38-year-old Spanish driver, who also won the 2018 and 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans races with Toyota, eyes a win in the 2020 Dakar as he turns his attention to gravel racing for the first time.  

Alonso is partnered with fellow Spaniard Marc Coma in the SA-built Toyota Hilux GR as part of an all-star line-up of four works crews consisting of three-time Dakar winner (and reigning champion) Nasser al-Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel; SA’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Alex Haro; and Bernhard Ten Brinke and navigator Tom Colsoul.

Two-time Formula One and Le Mans champion Fernando Alonso, right, and navigator Marc Coma. Picture: SUPPLIED
Two-time Formula One and Le Mans champion Fernando Alonso, right, and navigator Marc Coma. Picture: SUPPLIED

We are assured of gripping action from the first to the last gear, with dramatic scenes and furious racing expected every time Toyota’s headline racers square off with opposition in the Dakar’s other heroic world class drivers such as Carlos Sainz Snr, who makes another Dakar return at the age of 57.

The “Matador”, as he is known, is a member of the JCW X-Raid Mini team and he and 13 time Dakar winner (six in the bike category and seven in the car category) Stephane Peterhansel will once more take the fight to the Toyota Gazoo Racing team. For the 2020 leg he takes on the challenge with his German wife, Andrea, as his driving partner.

The first Dakar Rally to be held in Saudi Arabia will start in the port city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. The race will come to a conclusion on January 17 at a podium set in Qiddiya, a new city billed as a Middle Eastern entertainment and culture hub.

Other South Africans in the rally include Stuart Gregory, Wessel Bosman, Kirsten Landman, Aaron Mare, and Calheine Perry in the motorcycle class, and Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger in the car category.