It was by no means a Dakar-esque line up, however, Fernando Alonso can draw encouragement from his first rally podium ahead of his Dakar debut in January.
Alonso jumps from F1 to Dakar
After racing on asphalt most of his career, double Formula 1 World Champion Alonso announced earlier this year that he was making a switch to rallying with Dakar the ultimate goal.
Teaming up with Toyota Gazoo Racing, Alonso began his preparations for arguably the world’s toughest rally with a few lessons from 2009 Dakar winner, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers.
However, at the Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally, he finally got it right.
A relatively – as far as rallying goes – trouble-free four days saw the Spaniard and Coma claim third place in the overall standings.
The rally was won by Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who took the overall win by 2:09 from Yasir Seaidan after overhauling his compatriot on the final stage.
Penalties are part of the game
Alonso, one could argue, was given a helping hand by the stewards on his way to the podium, although only because a rival broke the rules.
He was fourth overall on Day One and again on Day Two before setting the third best time on Day Three.
That, though, still left him down in fourth place with Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi sitting above him on the leader board heading into Day Four.
However, a 10-minute penalty for a speeding infringement in a restricted zone meant Al-Qassimi fell behind the Spaniard before an oil leak put him out of the competition and handed Alonso an easy ride to third.
Alonso said: “It was a good four days preparation for the Dakar and discovering new terrain and new things here.
“To be third in the final two stages and to be third in the overall is the first podium of my life in rally.
“It is good that it happened now and gives us confidence for Dakar.”
The 12-stage 9000+km Dakar Rally begins on January 5 in Jeddah.
Source: The South African Picture: Toyota