Training session in Namibia
Fernando Alonso and Marc Coma completed an eventful but invaluable learning experience at the Lichtenburg 400 in South Africa on Friday and Saturday with Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Following successful training sessions in Namibia and Poland, the Spanish duo entered round five of the South African Cross Country Series, their first rally raid competition together in the Toyota Hilux.
The crew completed a 300-km Shakedown on the varied terrain of the competition route - as part of their training on Thursday. This gave the pair additional seat time in the Hilux, while allowing Marc to familiarise himself with the event roadbook and onboard navigation systems used during the competition.
During the Prologue on Friday, which determines the starting order on race day, Fernando and Marc started the 55-km route from 10th position on the road.
Despite the dust kicked up by the leading pack, the crew showed strong pace over the early part of the route, eventually catching up and passing one of the competitors ahead to get themselves into clearer air. Fernando and Marc posted the third-fastest time overall just 32 seconds off pole, bested only by Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa’s Henk Lategan and Giniel de Villiers also in the Hilux.
Starting from third position on race day, the crew experienced a soft rollover at the 27-km mark.
The windscreen of the Hilux was broken and the pair lost time to remove the glass before continuing. Despite the challenges, Fernando and Marc continued to the end of the 190-km loop and posted competitive split times throughout the remainder of the first loop while wearing goggles to assist visibility in the dust.
At the midday service, the Toyota Gazoo Racing team raced to replace the windscreen and completed minor bodywork repairs on the Hilux in the limited time available. Together with the event organisers, it was decided that the crew will start the second loop ahead of the field in clear air to gain quality mileage.
A bird strike five kilometres into the second loop, resulted in a second broken windscreen for the crew. Fernando and Marc again demonstrated their resolve to complete the final 190-km loop while taking turns to hold the broken windscreen in place between driving and navigating. They continued to post competitive split times and were classified 16th overall.
In total, Fernando and Marc clocked up another 728 km of training mileage during the Lichtenburg 400 which saw them traverse cornfields, undulating veld and dry river crossings.
Even more invaluable than the mileage for the new Spanish pairing transitioning into a different discipline of motorsport, are the lessons learnt and experience earned in the white heat of rally raid competition.
“Every time we go in the car we learn something and we get more and more familiar with the Hilux,” Alonso said.
Lichtenburg 400 was won by Giniel and navigator Dennis Murphy while Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa teammates Henk and navigator Brett Cummings finished second, enough to win the 2019 South African Cross Country Series title with one round remaining.
The next challenge for Fernando and Marc as part of their intensive training programme will be the Rally of Morocco which takes place near the city of Fes, Morocco on 3-9 October. - MotorPress