Former F1 driver Fernando Alonso, who is currently starring for Toyota in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), has completed a two-day test behind the wheel of the Japanese brand’s Dakar-winning Hilux here in South Africa.

Toyota says Alonso spent two days “learning the specific demands of rally raid” during a test in the Kalahari Desert. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers acted as Fernando’s “mentor” throughout the process.

“I followed the Dakar and thanks to Toyota Gazoo Racing I had the opportunity to come here to South Africa to test the Dakar-winning Hilux. I have tested different series and different cars these past couple of years and this was a great chance,” Alonso said, after driving the Hilux on two lay-outs around the desert (one 8 km and the other 17 km).

“It has been fun; certainly different to what I am used to driving, but very interesting. We built up speed slowly, learning lap after lap. It’s not easy to read the bumps and to know how much speed to carry but I became more confident each time. The Hilux feels great; it has good grip and balance, lots of power and impressive braking. It felt incredible to drive this car,” the Spaniard added.

Nasser Al-Attiyah won the 2019 Dakar Rally in the Hilux, which is powered by a 5,0-litre V8 petrol engine, producing 288 kW and 620 N.m of torque.

Glyn Hall, Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa team principle, said it was “a fantastic experience for the team to work with a driver of Fernando’s calibre”.

“It’s easy to see why he has enjoyed so much success in circuit racing; he was very well prepared for this test and made a huge effort to learn as much as possible in the two days. Rally raid is a totally different discipline compared to circuit racing but Fernando made impressive progress and looked like he had a lot of fun in the process,” said Hall.

“I am proud that he chose to test a Toyota Hilux in South Africa and I hope it was a worthwhile experience for him.”