Fernando Alonso ramps up Dakar Rally preparations with podium finish at AlUla-Neom cross-country rally

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Fernando Alonso continued his preparations for his Dakar Rally debut in Saudi Arabia by taking third place in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally this week. (Supplied)
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Fernando Alonso continued his preparations for his Dakar Rally debut in Saudi Arabia by taking third place in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally. (Supplied)
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Fernando Alonso continued his preparations for his Dakar Rally debut in Saudi Arabia by taking third place in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally. (Supplied)
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Fernando Alonso continued his preparations for his Dakar Rally debut in Saudi Arabia by taking third place in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally. (Supplied)
Updated 14 November 2019

Fernando Alonso ramps up Dakar Rally preparations with podium finish at AlUla-Neom cross-country rally

  • The result comes at perfect timing less than two months before two-time Formula 1 world champion tackles Dakar
  • Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi took first place

JEDDAH: Fernando Alonso continued his preparations for his Dakar Rally debut in Saudi Arabia by taking third place in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally and secure his inaugural rally podium finish in the process this week.
The result comes at perfect timing less than two months before two-time Formula 1 world champion Alonso takes the wheel for Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020, the Middle East’s first-ever edition of Dakar Rally, which is hosted by the kingdom from 5 to 17 January.
“It was an ideal preparation for Dakar as we discovered new terrain that we will come across again at Dakar,” Alonso said.
“It is a great feeling to finish third and get the first rally podium in my life. The fact that it happened here in Saudi Arabia at this time gives us a lot of confidence going into Dakar,” Alonso added.
Starting in AlUla and extending over 765km before the finale in Neom, AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally was contested across four stages over five days, and the former Formula 1 champion said it was an “excellent training” for him on a similar terrain and in close weather conditions to what would be expected at Dakar.
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi took first place at Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally, while compatriot Yasir Seaidan finished second, with Alonso rounding off the podium places.
Alonso, who made his desert rally debut in Morocco last month, was co-driven by five-time Dakar bike winner Marc Coma, and the Spanish duo will be together again at Dakar Saudi Arabia as part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team.
The 2005 and 2006 Formula 1 champion got his campaign at Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally underway to a good start on Day 1 before taking the pace up a notch on the second and third days to set his team up for a podium finish on the last day. “We continue with our plan and preparations, step by step and adapting as fast as we can,” Alonso said of his plans ahead of Dakar.
Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will consist of 12 stages, allowing pilots coming from across six continents to discover Saudi Arabia’s rich past, live its modernized present, and meet its future as they race through the Kingdom.
The pilots will kick off Rally Dakar from Jeddah, the bride of the Red Sea, through to Neom, a fully sustainable city of the future, then pass by the historical sites of Riyadh to face the Empty Quarter, a huge desert of unbroken sand, to end in Qiddiya, a future entertainment, sports and cultural destination.
A criminal investigation was been launched after an armed man intercepted a vehicle taking part in the rally.


Pakistan: No more international cricket at neutral venues

Updated 28 min 17 sec ago

Pakistan: No more international cricket at neutral venues

  • Pakistan Cricket Board chief says the country is safe for international cricket
  • Pakistan’s decade-long isolation from hosting test cricket ends on Wednesday when Sri Lanka will play at Pindi Cricket Stadium

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan will no longer look for neutral venues to stage home international cricket matches.
“The onus will be on the other teams to tell us why they can’t play in Pakistan,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
“Our default position will remain that Pakistan is safe. We play cricket in Pakistan (and if) you want to play against Pakistan you have to come to Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s decade-long isolation from hosting test cricket ends on Wednesday when Sri Lanka will play at Pindi Cricket Stadium. The second test will be in Karachi from Dec. 19-23. The series is part of the world test championship.
Sri Lanka was the last team to play a test in Pakistan in 2009. Terrorists attacked the team’s bus in Lahore and eight people were killed. Several Sri Lanka players and team officials were injured. The ambush shut the door on international cricket in Pakistan. The PCB organized almost all of its home matches in the United Arab Emirates.
In the last four years, the PCB staged short limited-overs tours against the likes of Zimbabwe, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and a World XI to show the cricket world it could host tours safely. Sri Lanka agreed to play two test matches in Pakistan only after it visited Karachi and Lahore three months ago and played an incident-free series of one-day internationals and Twenty20s.
“It’s only logical that cricket comes home,” Mani said. “People have a perception of Pakistan which is very, very different to the reality of what is happening on the ground in Pakistan today.
“The concerns that people had about Pakistan, certainly for the last year or two, were not what the ground reality is.”
Top cricketing officials from Australia, England, Ireland, and the international players’ association have visited Pakistan in the last six months.
“When they see the ground reality, it’s a different attitude,” Mani said. “In fact, it was very nicely put by the chief executive of Cricket Ireland. He said, “I have to think of a reason why we shouldn’t be coming to Pakistan.’”
Mani said he’s had discussions with officials from Cricket Australia and England and Wales Cricket Board and he hoped that both countries will tour Pakistan in the next three years.
“I am absolutely confident that in 2021 we’ll have England and in 2022 we’ll have Australia,” he said.
“We’re not due to play New Zealand now till about 2023-24, but our default position is that Pakistan will play all its home matches in Pakistan.”
Despite the impending return of test cricket, Mani conceded there might not be a capacity crowd for the test, in stark contrast to the packed stadiums in Lahore in October when Sri Lanka whitewashed Pakistan 3-0 in the T20 series.
“Look, test cricket had been losing (crowd) support in the subcontinent, in fact around the world apart from England and Australia,” he said.
“People prefer to go and watch the white-ball cricket (T20s and ODIs) but it doesn’t mean that people don’t follow test cricket. You’ll probably find that people watch test cricket at home on television and through the telephone or whatever these days as much as they’ve ever done.
“We haven’t had much time to do the marketing for this (Rawalpindi test) but going forward we’re going to be working very hard to ensure that we can get young people in with the schools and college students, support them to come at little or no cost, give them exposure to cricket.”