Alonso aims to make history as Dakar Rally heads to Saudi

Apart from his success in F1, Fernando Alonso has also won the Le Mans 24-hour race and has singled out the Indianapolis 500 as his priority for 2020.

Ex-Formula One driver Fernando Alonso   -  Getty Images

Spanish driver Fernando Alonso is aiming to create history as the first Formula One world champion to win the Dakar Rally when the 12-day marathon gets underway in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

Alonso, who won the F1 championship with Renault in 2005 and 2006, is one of 351 starters in this year's 7,500-kilometre race which has moved from South America to Saudi Arabia, both venues a long way from the original 1979 route between Paris and the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Among the starters will be motorbikes, quad bikes and trucks but Alonso, who will have five-time bike champion Marc Coma navigating his Toyota, will be in the car category as he bids to become one of the greatest all-round drivers of all time.

Apart from his success in F1, the 38-year-old Spaniard has also won the Le Mans 24-hour race and has singled out the Indianapolis 500 as his priority for 2020.

He describes Dakar as “the biggest challenge of my career”.

Alonso is not the first F1 driver to take part in the race.

The Belgian Jacky Ickx, a winner of eight grand prix and six-time winner of Le Mans, won Dakar in 1983 and came second in 1986 and 1989. Frenchman Patrick Tambay, who had two wins in his 114 grand prix, came third in 1988 and 1989.

Enriching experience

Given the treacherous conditions - long stretches of sand dunes - Alonso is not overly confident of challenging for victory, noting that even the nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb was unable to deliver when he raced the Dakar.

Loeb won 13 stages but could only finish second in 2017 and third in 2019.

“If Loeb still hasn't won the Dakar, imagine me, who is coming from asphalt,” Alonso told RTVE.

“I think the goal is more to approach the rally as an enriching experience for us.”

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