Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso will test Toyota’s Dakar rally car on three different continents over the next few months as he prepares for his next major target in motorsport.

Alonso left Formula One at the end of 2018 to pursue new challenges and is about to embark on perhaps his toughest yet as he prepares for an entry to the 2020 Dakar Rally.

The legendary rally raid competition was established in 1978 and originally ran between Paris and Dakar before security concerns in Mauritania in 2008 saw it switch to South America. Next year, it will take place in Saudi Arabia in January, and Alonso, who has no competitive rallying experience and got his first taste of Toyota’s Dakar-spec Hilux in the Kalahari Desert in March, will undertake an intense training programme ahead of the event.

Starting on Tuesday, he will take part in a four-day test in the deserts of Namibia before a non-competitive first outing at the Harrismith 400 in South Africa — the fifth round of the South African Cross Country Series — on September 13 and 14.

Although his participation in the 2020 Dakar Rally has not been confirmed, further tests in Europe and the Middle East will continue to prepare him for a likely Dakar debut in January.

“I got a taste of off-road rallying earlier this year and it left me with a good feeling that I want to prolong,” Alonso said. “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.”

Toyota team principal Glynn 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.”

Since leaving F1 at the end of 2018, Alonso has added a second Le Mans 24 Hours victory with Toyota to his name as well as the World Endurance Championship title.

A second attempt to win the Indianapolis 500 in May ended with him failing to qualify, but he still has his sights set on winning the race to complete motorsport’s unofficial triple crown of victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indy 500.

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