Dakar Rally 2020: Fernando Alonso starts the 'biggest challenge of my career'
Double F1 world champion begins the 12-day marathon in Saudi Arabia
Spanish driver Fernando Alonso is aiming to create history as the first Formula One world champion to win the Dakar Rally as the 12-day marathon starts in Saudi Arabia.
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 was moved from South America to Saudi Arabia.
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, Spaniard Alonso, 38, has also won consecutive Le Mans 24-hour races 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.
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 grands prix, came third in 1988 and 1989.
Given the treacherous conditions - the route takes place on long stretches of sand dunes - Alonso is not overly confident of challenging for victory, saying that even 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 said. "I think the goal is more to approach the rally as an enriching experience for us."
Updated: January 5, 2020 10:36 AM