Alonso on Dakar comeback trail after tough first week

Fernando Alonso at the end of the first week of the 2020 Dakar Rally.
© / @alo_oficial

Fernando Alonso's maiden Dakar Rally didn't exactly start well, after the former F1 driver lost three hours on day two with a broken wheel and damaged suspension which dropped him to 63rd place in the iconic endurance race.

But since then things have been on the up, with Alonso growing in confidence and getting quicker with each outing. On Friday - the last day of competition before Saturday's rest day - the Spaniard was third fastest, putting him back up to 16th overall.

"[It] has gone well again, with good feelings and good rhythm," he told reporters at the end of the first week. "We were fast again and in the top six.

"I am glad to have had four good days after the problem we had. In general, good pace, confident, and gradually improving.

"Being the third-best of the Toyotas has been a nice surprise," he continued. "We had no problems, no punctures or anything. This rest stage comes at a good time.

"Visibility is essential. If it’s good, you are always constant and in rhythm with the leaders. But if you fall too far behind and there is dust, there are some ‘waypoints’ in which you have to lift."

As a rookie to the Dakar experience, Alonso admitted that he was relying heavily on the experience and advice of his Gazoo Racing Toyota co-driver Marc Coma.

“With his experience in the dunes, [Marc] is always advising me. He also understands how the race is evolving, which are the dunes in which you have to slow down, or where you have to climb a little more.

“each of these challenges is new to me, but I try to learn as quickly as possible," Alonso added. "At this level you have different challenges, such as the behaviour of the car at the beginning and then at the end.

"You go out with more than 400 litres of gasoline, and you end up with 30 or 40, so there is a huge difference [in the car's performance].

Fernando Alonso at the end of the first week of the 2020 Dakar Rally.

© / @alo_oficial

“You drive on sandy terrain, on gravel, on stones, on asphalt," he added. "The level of grip is very unstable and you have to adapt to every kilometre.

“And on the stones the Toyotas have had many problems this first week. We have punctured two or three wheels each day, and that has been a very big penalty especially when you drop down the order."

This is the first time that the Dakar has been held on a new route in Saudi Arabia.

At the halfway point of the race, Alonso remains over three hours behind the event leader, his friend and compatriot Carlos Sainz. The rallying legend has a seven minute advantage behind the wheel of his JCW X-Raid Mini over the leading Toyota driven by defending Dakar champion Nasser Al Attiyah.

"There is no surprise in that regard,” Alonso said of Sainz's advantage at the top of the standings. “We know that Carlos is one of the best and I am very happy that he is leading.

"Half the race remains but he seems to have everything in hand," he added. “We will see how hard the second week will be.

"The Dakar is normally unpredictable. But at the moment in this one, nothing is really happening among the top six.

“If things start to happen during the second week and we continue at this rate, we could quickly recover two or three positions in one stage and get into the top three.

"But if nothing happens at the front, it is [going to be] difficult,” Alonso acknowledged.

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