Autosport can reveal that over the last two months Toyota has been planning for the eventuality that two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso will decide to contest the Dakar Rally.
Alonso – who won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota last year – is expected to test a Dakar-spec Gazoo Racing South Africa Hilux within the next month, after contesting the Daytona 24 Hours with Wayne Taylor Racing.
Autosport has learned that Toyota’s Japanese HQ has contacted Glyn Hall, the team principal of its South African-based cross-country rally raid project, and he has been working on a plan in case Alonso wants to enter the Dakar.
Alonso has already contacted Nasser Al-Attiyah to see if it was possible to test his Hilux.
But the Alonso plan put in place by Gazoo Racing would go much further and the first test is for the ex-F1 driver to experience the sensations of desert rallying, and to compare himself with one of Toyota’s established Dakar drivers.
“We already had a similar situation with Giniel de Villiers,” Hall told Autosport about de Villiers, who won four titles in South African touring cars and finished fifth in his first Dakar back in 2003.
“So everything is possible, but it is not an easy race.
“Fernando’s skills are exceptional, we have seen him in the last 17 years, he has evolved into one of the best in the world.”
Alonso himself has said he has a huge respect for rally events, but previously admitted: “I have to be honest and know that I have no talent to do them.”
But Toyota appears ready to offer him the chance to convert his circuit-racing skills to learn the art of rally-raid driving.
Hall added: “If you are a good driver, you are a good driver and you have the skills.
“One of the things Fernando has seen in F1 races is that he has the ability to listen and think when he is driving on the limit.
“That is a skill that is key in the raids, because you listen to a co-driver, and the race is complicated and you have to think about it.”
Gazoo Racing plans to carry out Alonso’s test in South Africa, and its Dakar winner Al-Attiyah said he would help the Spaniard.
“The first thing is to feel the car, compare the sensations with another-level driver,” added Hall.
“It would be a fantastic opportunity, not only for Toyota, and for us in South Africa where the car is manufactured, but for the entire Dakar [event], for the entire cross-country community.
“It would be an inspiration and an incredible story to tell.
“There would be a lot of emotion if Fernando comes to the Dakar. I think the sport would explode.”