Alonso: A lot of positives out of the Rally of Morocco

Double Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso took a step closer to deciding if he will contest next years Dakar Rally after an eventful second competitive off-road race this past week in Morocco.

The Spaniard is on a fact-finding mission as he garners experience ahead of a possible foray in the world’s toughest off-road race in Saudi Arabia early next year. on 24 October, Toyota will announce their team and plans to tackle the race.

After his off-road race debut in South Africa last month, Alonso was back in action in Morocco in a Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux and again it was an incident-packed foray for him and co-driver (Dakar legend) Marc Coma.

The team reported:

Fernando and Marc successfully completed the five-stage event, adding to their experience as part of an intensive training programme towards a possible 2020 Dakar Rally entry.

The Spanish duo previously took part in a round of the local South African Cross-Country Series last month, but the Rally of Morocco gave them the first opportunity to gauge their pace against some of the fastest rally raid crews in the world.”

The pair faced a variety of challenges from the beginning, having to negotiate their way through dust kicked up by other competitors starting from 15th position.

Over the course of the 204-kilometre Stage 1, the crew picked up three punctures on the rocky terrain. With only two spares, they lost some 40 minutes waiting for the next Toyota crew to flag down to borrow a spare wheel.

The Overdrive Racing crew of Viktor Khoroshavtsev and navigator Anton Nikolaev graciously assisted the rally raid newcomer, allowing Fernando and Marc to complete the stage in 21st place.”

Stage 2 brought the competitors to the Merzouga Dunes on the edge of the Sahara Desert featuring 386 kilometres of rocky tracks and sand dunes. Fernando and Marc completed a clean run despite running the dust which saw the pair move up to 10th fastest overall, giving them an increased dust gap for the next stage.

An all-new approach to the roadbook was debuted for the 363-kilometre Stage 3 where crews only received their navigational instructions five minutes before the start of the stage. The Toyota Gazoo Racing crews of Bernhard Ten Brinke and navigator Tom Colsoul, Fernando and Marc both drove into the same ditch which was not marked in the roadbook.

Both cars suffered suspension damage and had to return to the bivouac for repairs overnight to be able to continue the race with time penalties.

More punctures for Fernando and Marc on the 311-kilometre Stage 4, which again featured a “blind” road book concept, with spares running short. When the crew arrived at the stricken Nasser and Mathieu, stopping to try to help their teammate, a quick-thinking Marc took Nasser’s spare wheels when it became apparent the Qatari rally raid legend could go no further.

Wednesday’s final stage saw competitors travel 168 kilometres from Erfoud to Fes, traversing rocky paths and a steep, winding climb through the Atlas Mountains. Fernando and Marc completed another clean stage and posted the 8th fasted time of the day, finishing in 26th position overall.

Alonso summed up his time in the desert, “I’m definitely taking a lot of positives out of the Rally of Morocco. It was a busy two weeks here testing and then, for my first international rally raid competition, straight into one of the toughest races on the calendar.

“I’m really happy to cross the finish line and it has been an eye-opening experience to see just how demanding it is for everyone in the team, the cars and the crews. We had some ups and downs in our performance but I think we demonstrated our potential in the Hilux. Most importantly, I’m learning from all the difficulties we faced during the rally.

“I want to congratulate Giniel, Alex and the Toyota Gazoo Racing team for the win. Giniel has been my biggest help, mentoring me during my training in Namibia and South Africa over the past few months,” added the former Formula 1 driver.

Team principal Glyn Hall said of the off-road rookie, “For Fernando, we knew it was a steep learning curve for him. If we had more time, I would’ve preferred for him to do more local races in South Africa before taking on something as formidable as the Rally of Morocco.

“The route is extremely tough and the roadbook wasn’t always precise. Despite the challenges he faced, I know he gained more invaluable experience here. He might not feel it yet, but with the decision on Dakar coming up, he will definitely be in a position to reap the benefits of everything he experienced in Morocco.”

Alonso’s teammate Giniel de Villiers and navigator Alex Haro won the 2019 Rally of Morocco in their Toyota Hilux.

On October 24, Toyota Gazoo Racing will announce its 2020 Dakar Rally team entry at a press conference held at the PortAventura Convention Centre in Tarragona, Spain.