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.
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Alonso, the two-time Formula One world champion, will make his debut at this weekend’s prestigious event in his pursuit of motor racing’s Triple Crown; winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans.
Should he win on Sunday, Alonso will require just the Indy 500 to emulate Britain’s double F1 champion Graham Hill – the only other driver to have completed the set.
The 36-year old Spaniard will start from pole position after his Japanese team-mate, and former Williams driver, Kazuki Nakajima posted the fastest time in qualifying. The duo will be joined by former Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi.
Button, the 2009 F1 champion who raced alongside Alonso at McLaren, is also set to make his Le Mans debut in the 24-hour race which gets under way on Saturday afternoon.
“For any of us to challenge Toyota is very difficult,” Button, 38, told Press Association Sport. “It is theirs to lose.
“But it is Le Mans and you never know. It isn’t a sprint race so there is every possibility we could challenge them.
“We are ready, and ready to fight, and it is going to be an exciting race.”
Button, who brought the curtain down on his grand prix career in 2016, will race for the Russian-backed SMP team.
They will line up in seventh on the grid. Button’s car, unlike Alonso’s Toyota, is not a hybrid, and he will face series of handicaps.
Button, who announced his engagement to American model Brittny Ward earlier this week, added: “The atmosphere should be awesome. Fans stay up all night, and not many sleep.
“My friends and family are really excited about coming along and I am equally excited.
“The problem is that in between stints on the track I am supposed to sleep, but being such a motor racing nut I am going to struggle because I will be too interested in watching the racing.”
Nick Tandy was the last Briton to win the Le Mans race, when he teamed up with German F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg back in 2015.
Oman’s Al Faisal Al Zubair and Khalid Al Wahaibi endured mixed fortunes in the second race at round two of the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland in Austria on Sunday.
Al Zubair climbed from a starting position of 16th to finish 11th out of a huge field of drivers at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, but Al Wahaibi sustained a puncture while lying in 15th position and was forced to retire after 13 of the 17 completed race laps.
He had started the race in 17th, one place behind his fellow Omani.
The rookie had, however, been granted a top-10 finish in the first of the races on Saturday, when the results were declared final and penalties had been imposed on other drivers.
Al Zubair was also promoted into a points-scoring position after his on-track incident the previous day.
Austrian driver Thomas Preining led from start-to-finish to confirm his second victory of the weekend from BWT Lechner Racing Team colleague Michael Ammermuller of Germany.
Dutchman Larry ten Voorde finished third for the second day running.
Al Zubair, who drives for the Lechner Racing Team Middle East team, said: “Eleventh position at the end of the race and, perhaps, a top-10 finish if any time penalties are imposed. It was a very good race considering that we started in 16th.
“We made up positions and kept it on track. We have learned a lot this weekend and that was the point of doing the German Cup. We are ready now for the next round of the Super Cup at the Red Bull ring.”
Youngster Al Wahaibi added: “I managed to have a really good start and was running in P11 or 12 until I had a slow puncture on the opening laps. “By lap 13 it was a flat tyre and I could not drive any more. I had a lot of under steer. It might have been the result of contact, but I was not sure. I had to come in and retire. That is disappointing because I think another top 10 finish was possible.
“We were here to learn anyway. I had never raced against 35 cars in one race before. You learn about overtaking, defending, so I need to look at the positives I have gained. A top-10 in my first European race is pretty good.”
The Porsche Mobil 1 Super Cup resumes at the Red Bull Circuit between June 28-30.