Alonso begins preparations with Toyota’s Dakar Rally team

              FILE - In this May 17, 2017, file photo, Gil de Ferran, left, talks with Fernando Alonso, of Spain, during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. McLaren will return to full-time IndyCar competition next season for the first time since 1979 in a partnership with existing team Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Gil de Ferran, the sporting director for McLaren Racing, will lead the IndyCar effort for McLaren independently from the Formula One effort. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

MADRID (AP) — Fernando Alonso will undergo an intense training program with Toyota ahead of next year’s Dakar Rally.

The Japanese carmaker says Alonso will work with its Dakar Rally team in the next five months to “familiarize himself with the challenging rigors of rally raid.”

Toyota says Alonso will take part in test sessions the rest of the year across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

It says Alonso “will push his limits to develop the off-road driving skills needed to tackle some of motorsport’s most challenging events.”

Alonso’s participation in the January rally in Saudi Arabia still hasn’t been officially confirmed. The 38-year-old Alonso took a test drive in March in the Toyota Hilux truck that won the Dakar Rally this year.

The two-time Formula One champion says he has always maintained his desire to pursue “new challenges in different disciplines” and that he is “really looking forward to the next few months of training.”

Toyota says Alonso’s training program begins Tuesday with a three-day test session in the deserts of southern Africa. He is expected to be back in action in September.