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Debutant Alonso realistic over ‘crazy’ Dakar challenge

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso embarks on his first Dakar Rally on Sunday determined to "enjoy the adventure".

"It's a bit crazy for the first time out of tarmac, out of asphalt, to go to the toughest race in the world but I love the challenge," the 38-year-old Spaniard said.

The 2005 and 2006 F1 champion is one of 351 starters in the gruelling 7,500 kilometre marathon that has moved to Saudi Arabia from South America.

He is driving the Toyota Hilux used by Nasser Al-Attiyah to win last year's Dakar.

Qatari Al Attiyah and 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers make up Toyota's three-car assault on motorsport's 'Everest'.

Despite the expertise of five-time bike champion Marc Coma navigating, Alonso downplayed his hopes of creating history by becoming the first F1 champion to lift the Dakar.

"Toyota drivers are racing for the victory, for me it will be a little different, enjoy the adventure," he told a press conference on Friday.

"We are very realistic about our hopes. We are taking it step by step. I'm perfectly aware of my lack of experience and perfectly aware of my lack of pace."

Alonso is hoping to make it to the second week "with a little better chance to be in the top places".

He is not the first F1 driver to take up the Dakar challenge. 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. 

And Frenchman Patrick Tambay, who had two wins in his 114 grand prix, came third in 1988 and 1989.

The 42nd Dakar gets underway in Jeddah on Sunday, concluding on January 17 in Qiddiya.

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