Fernando Alonso cemented his status as one of the greatest drivers of his era with a scintillating win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Spaniard, sharing the Toyota car with Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi, won the second leg of motorsport’s Triple Crown to add to his two Monaco GP titles and the Indy 500, which he still seeks.
Sunday’s epic win in northwestern France means Alonso is the first driver in almost 50 years to clinch both the Monaco GP and Le Mans titles – since British legend Graham Hill in 1972.
But it wasn’t all rosy for the Japanese manufacturer in their search of the coveted crown.
Trailing stablemates Toyoto No.7 by 2min 15sec early on Sunday morning, Alonso showed his extraordinary ability to adapt, following two sensational overtaking manouevres to cut the gap to 45 seconds.
It was once again another illustration of his immense talents in a competitive car, passing the duties on to Nakajima, who went on to seal a first win for a Japanese outfit since Mazdaspeed in 1991.
The two-time world champion may still be committed to F1 until the end of the season – but his win in Le Mans adds further debate to what could potentially be his final season before he commits full-time to Indy 500 in 2019.
The Spaniard enjoyed an encouraging debut in Indianapolis last season but engine failure forced him to retire 179 laps into the famous 200 lap race.
With fresh motivation, a return to America next May will give him the chance to complete a historic triple crown.
The Oviedo native will turn 37 next month and if this is his swansong season in F1 before moving on to Indy then it’s difficult to argue what he throws his hand to in his free time.
At it stands, Alonso is dovetailing his F1 commitments with racing in the World Endurance Championships – meaning seven extra races between May and the end of this month – on top of his contracted McLaren work.
From Canada last week to Le Mans and beyond, he will race on five consecutive weekends up until July 8 at Silverstone.
As gruelling as his schedule may sound, the industrious Alonso is clearly happy to have multiple commitments and there is no doubt his win in France will give him renewed optimistic that he can flourish in his 17th competitive year in motorsport.
Formula One may be his priority at present, but the unreliability of the McLaren car is enough to demotivate any driver in the sport.
But for all the problems in the cockpit, Alonso always gives 100 per cent on track, clinching five top-8 finishes in the first seven races this season, with retirements in Monaco and Canada – on his 300th grand prix appearance – adding to his mixed results.
After nearly two decades in F1 and 97 podiums, El Nano looks to have lost none of his appetite and will be bidding to continue his sterling form in Le Mans when he steps out at the French GP next week.
It’s likely to be his final year in F1, but if so, let us hang out our greatest colours in celebration for one of the most successful drivers of our era.
Fernando Alonso celebrated a victorious debut in the 86th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours race as Toyota triumphed.
The two-time Formula One world champion is pursuing motor racing’s Triple Crown – winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 – and ticked off the second of the three prizes in France.
The 36-year old Spaniard and team-mates Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi secured a two-lap victory. They started from pole position on Saturday afternoon after Japanese former Williams driver Nakajima posted the fastest time in qualifying for their number eight car.
Toyota, who competed with a hybrid car in the top LMP1 class, proved too strong for their rivals running non-hybrids and completed a one-two when their number seven car – shared by Briton Mike Conway, Japanese Kamui Kobayashi and Argentinian Jose Maria Lopez – finished second.
McLaren F1 driver Alonso won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007 and requires just the Indy 500 to emulate Britain’s double F1 champion Graham Hill, who is the only driver to have completed the Triple Crown set.
Meanwhile, Jenson Button retired from the Le Mans race after coming to a halt with just 50 minutes to go for the Russian-backed SMP team.
Button was also in his debut Le Mans race and lined up from seventh on the grid.
The 2009 F1 champion, who raced alongside Alonso at McLaren, struggled with an engine problem and spent two hours in the pits racing in the non-hybrid LMP1 class.
Fernando Alonso strung together a series of fast laps through the night to set up his Toyota to retake the lead on his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut just after dawn on Sunday.
The Spaniard put the Toyota No. 8 in position for Japanese co-driver Kazuki Nakajima to overtake stablemates Toyota No. 7, driven by Kamui Kobayashi, at 06.20 local time (08.20 UAE time).
When Alonso took his second turn at the wheel at 1.30 (3.30 UAE time), the car was 2min 15sec behind No.7 after the car’s third driver, Swiss Sebastien Buemi, had picked up a one-minute “stop and go” penalty for speeding in a temporary slow zone.
When Alonso handed over to Nakajima two and a half hours later, the two-time Formula One world champion had closed the gap to 45 seconds to claim the lead during his first stint late on Saturday afternoon.
Alonso, who is bidding to complete the second part of motor racing’s Triple Crown, climbed out of his car smiling and scarcely showing signs of fatigue.
“I felt good at night. I was in the zone and I pushed to catch up,” said the 36-year-old, who has already won the F1 Monaco Grand Prix and also still needs the Indy 500 for the Triple Crown.
“Some of the work is done, but it’s still a long race.”
The leader in LMP2, after 19 hours, was the G-Drive Racing car of Frenchmen Jean-Eric Vergne and Andrea Pizzitola and Russian Roman Rusinov, lying fifth overall, 14 laps behind Alonso’s Toyota.