Mon, 14 Oct 2019

Alonso, Coma find going tough at Lichtenburg 400

News24
17 Sep 2019, 18:43 GMT+10

Fernando Alonso might have won two Formula championships, but the Spaniard found the going tough in his first race in Toyota Gazoo Racing's Hilux at the Litchenburg 400 in the North West.

Their first rally-raid race is part of the Spaniard's evaluation program for Toyota Gazoo as he looks to gain a seat for the 2020 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.

Alonso and co-driver Marc Coma, who has won the Dakar Rally five times in the bike category, qualified third fastest in the FIA class on the Friday just 32 seconds off pole position.

Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa are the reigning Dakar champions, after Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel won the race in Peru earlier in 2019.

Saturday's race day proved challenging for the new pair as a soft rollover stumped their race after only 27km. According to the team the windscreen of the Hilux was broken and the pair lost time to remove the glass before continuing.

Alonso and Coma wore motocross goggles to keep the dust at bay and completed the 190km loop and posted competitive split times throughout the remainder of the loop.

After the Hilux was repaired at the DSP, race organisers allowed Alonso and Coma to start the second loop 15 minutes ahead of the field to gain quality mileage.

The second loop proved to be challenging as well, after a guinea fowl struck the windscreen five kilometres into the stage, resulted in a second broken windscreen for the crew.

They finished the 190-kilometre loop while taking turns to hold the broken windscreen in place between driving and navigating and finished 16th overall.

The race was won by former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dennis Murphy while Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa teammates Henk and navigator Brett Cummings finished second, claiming the 2019 South African Cross Country Series title with one round remaining.

Alonso and Coma's next test is the Rally of Morocco between October 3-9. To prepare for the challenging sand dunes of the Moroccan desert, Alonso jetted off to Qatar to learn the ropes of dune driving with Nasser Al-Attiyah.

The Rally of Morocco will be a stern test for Alonso and Coma and features a cloverleaf layout with five competitive stages all starting and ending near the city of Fes.

Race distance is 2500km of which 1868 kilometres will be timed special stages, featuring a mixture of rough gravel tracks, sand dune crossings and tricky navigation.

Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa team principal Glyn Hall gives his impression of Alonso and Coma's first race in the Hilux:

"We certainly proved this weekend that Fernando has the speed and Marc has the ability to co-drive in the Hilux. Despite the ups and downs, this weekend was an invaluable experience for the crew. We are fast-tracking one of the best racing drivers the world has ever seen into a discipline he has never experienced before."

"With just five months to prepare for one of the toughest races in motorsport, we have an incredible task ahead of us. In the Prologue, we saw that Fernando can keep up with the best drivers in South Africa, who are as good as they come in the world. Competing at this level in terms of speed, and with such a steep learning curve, we expected small setbacks along the way."

"This is exactly the kind of experience they need to have so it doesn't come as a surprise if it happens during the big race. The determination shown by Fernando and Marc today is nothing short of impressive. The crew got back in the car and completed the first loop without a windscreen in the dust, and again in the second loop while holding the window up for most of the stage."

Alonso said: 'Every time we go in the car we learn something and we get more and more familiar with the Hilux. Unfortunately, today was a little bit of a nightmare for us.

"In the morning, we rolled over a little bit and broke the windscreen which affected our visibility so we had to remove it. We drove the rest of the loop with goggles on, in the dust behind all the cars. For the second loop the organisers allowed us to start in front, to have a clear view."

The Spaniard said: "After a few kilometres, we hit a bird and the windscreen broke again. Then it was nearly 200km with one hand on the windscreen and the other on the steering wheel. It wasn't the best day for us, but we were able to get more kilometres in the Hilux and it's good to experience these things before we get to more important races."

Five-time Dakar Rally winner Coma gave his impression of the race: "Today was a pretty tough day for us after a really good day yesterday. We started the race smooth but rolled the car at one point but we managed to finish the loop.

"Then we started the second loop with a new windscreen to get more experience in the Hilux. After just a few kilometres, we hit a bird and it broke the windscreen."

The Spaniard said: "The wind and dust started to come inside the car, making it very difficult to drive to the end. It really wasn't easy to hold the windscreen in place while navigating at the same time."

"With Fernando, we managed the situation together and got to the end of the race. Even with all the challenges we faced today, we still managed to get a lot of valuable kilometres under our belt and we know that all of this is part of the experience we are gaining."

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