Fernando Alonso still confident of ‘magical’ Dakar Rally stage win in Saudi Arabia despite setbacks

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Fernando Alonso speaks to the press after completing Stage 2 of the Dakar Rally on Monday in Saudi Arabia. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Fernando Alonso still confident of ‘magical’ Dakar Rally stage win in Saudi Arabia despite setbacks

  • Confidence was raised when he and co-driver Marc Coma finished fifth in Stage 3
  • Alonso’s pace suggests he might well have challenged nearer the top of the classification

NEOM: Former Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso is confident he can still claim what he said would be a “magical” maiden stage win at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, he said on Tuesday.

The Spaniard’s chances of challenging for the outright victory took a dent when he lost more than two hours to suspension and wheel repairs during Stage 2.

But confidence was raised when he and co-driver Marc Coma finished fifth in Stage 3, only six minutes behind winner Carlos Saint, something Alonso called “very positive,” according to a report from website motorsport.com.

“We had a stage without setbacks, with good visibility — even going back (toward Neom), every car that we were catching had a flat tire or was lost,” Alonso told the website.

“We had a track without cars and without dust. The only setback was in the last part, that we got lost for a bit in a river, we could not find the way.

“(Otherwise) it was a good day that left a good taste.

“Monday was a surprise. The result was negative and losing those hours was not expected, but the sensations were good yesterday and today also, I feel comfortable with the car.

“Seven months ago I had never climbed onto a dune with a car, now to be able to be again among the first four-five for the second consecutive day is a positive note.

“But I always want a little more and hopefully I can take advantage of the good starting position tomorrow or in the next few days to try something else and be among the first three or hopefully win a stage, which would be magical,” he added.

Without the delay on Monday, Alonso’s pace suggests he might well have challenged nearer the top of the classification, but the former Renault, McLaren and Ferrari driver is remaining upbeat.

“We’ve only been here for three days and there’s going to be a lot more drama than we’ve experienced.

“It happened to me yesterday, (Tuesday) we saw (Khalid) Al-Qassimi’s Peugeot that was in pieces, and many more things will happen to many people.

“Let’s hope that the minimum possible will happen to us and that we will reach stage 12 and get the whole experience.

“But if I can find a good pace and visibility on some stage, I hope to make the top three or even get a dream stage win. It seems impossible, but I have more confidence after these two stages,” he added.


‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.