Fernando Alonso tackles the Lichtenburg 400

The Lichtenburg 400 which took place this past weekend saw a host of the top South African rally teams battle it out on the dusty farmlands around the small town of Lichtenburg in the North West Province.

The town was alive with excitement as Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso and five-time Dakar Rally winner in the motorbike class and six-time FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion, Marc Coma took part in the event from behind the wheel of a Toyota Dakar rally bakkie.

More on that later, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Giniel de Villiers and his navigator Dennis Murphy claimed victory in the fifth round or Lichtenburg 400 of the 2019 South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS) this past weekend. At the same time, teammates Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings finished in second place, clinching the overall SACCS championship for 2019 in the season.

Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings were 23 points ahead in the overall championship standings going into the race weekend while Ford’s Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable ranked second. In the end, Lategan and Cummings earned another 23 points for their second place; while Woolridge and Huxtable added only 12 points to their tally, this gave the Toyota Hilux crew the margin that they needed to clinch the title. “We’re delighted regardless since Giniel won the race for us, and Henk won the title. All in all, a great weekend for the team,” Glyn Hall, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, Team Principal.

Now, what about Alonso and Marc Coma?

Following a series of successful training sessions in Namibia and Poland, the multiple world motorsport championship-winning Spanish duos demonstrated their determination and skills, advancing quickly through the team’s planned targets. As a result, Toyota Gazoo Racing decided to enter Fernando and Marc in the Lichtenburg 400. The two took part in the race as it provided the ideal setting for a real race training environment but did not officially compete in the championship standings.

I posed the question “what his most enjoyable aspect of this form of racing is?” to Fernando during the Friday night press briefing, to which he replied; “That’s a very interesting question, there is a lot that I like but the best thing is seeing the orange markers on the trees, that way I know that I am going in the right direction”  said Alonso.

The pair did well considering it was their first time under race conditions in the discipline, setting good qualifying times on Friday. Come Saturday and things got a bit rough as the two experienced a rollover during the stage. It was not a high-speed incident and the team managed to get the Hilux back onto its wheels. The car suffered some damage to the windscreen which made it very difficult for Alonso to see out of. When they made it back to the pit area the Toyota Gazoo team quickly replaced headlights, body panels and the windscreen.

It was then decided that Alonso and Coma would head out 15 minutes before the participating racers as this was just a training environment and the team saw no point in having car number 331 run with competing members. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan for the Spanish driver as they struck a guinea fowl early in the stage causing damage to the new windscreen.

Overall the pair gained significant seat time and learnt a lot about the sport in preparation for a possible entry to the 2020 Dakar Rally. The two will see action at the Rally of Morocco, which takes place in the first week of October 2019. The Toyota Gazoo Racing team will also be fielding three cars at the event, with Dakar champion Nasser Al Attiyah, Giniel de Villiers, and Bernhard ten Brinke all taking part.

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