Fernando Alonso headed to Le Mans with only one target – victory. And the double F1 world champion delivered in some style to become only the fifth driver to have won the famous sportscar endurance race and an F1 world championship crown…
Alonso has had a challenging time in F1 of late, with his McLaren not yet capable of securing podiums or wins. But he was given a great chance to sample the sweet taste of victory once more when he secured a deal with Toyota to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Spaniard, racing alongside ex-F1 drivers Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, made the most of the fact his Toyota team were the only ones left in the LMP1 hybrid class, which has a significant performance advantage over the rest of the LMP1 contenders.
The trio put the #8 car on pole, ahead of team mates Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez, with their nearest challenger a staggering four seconds further back in third. Victory was theirs to lose – but Toyota have been burnt before, victory slipping away from them on the final lap two years ago.
This year, there was no mistake. Both cars ran reliably, with Alonso and his crew running second for much of the opening stint before the Spaniard delivered a stunning spell overnight to reduce the deficit, before Nakajima passed Kobayashi to seize a lead they would never relinquish.
Victory means Alonso has now achieved the second part of the Triple Crown, adding victory at Le Mans to his two Monaco Grand Prix victories. That leaves only the Indianapolis 500. Win that and he will join the legendary Graham Hill as only the second driver to win the Triple Crown.
In an era when modern drivers tend to specialise in one category, such is the demand of the individual championships, that it would be a remarkable achievement for Alonso.
There wasn’t such fortune for Alonso’s former team mate Jenson Button, who was also making his debut at Le Mans. The 2009 world champion, racing with ex-F1 driver Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin, dropped out of the running when they lost two hours in the pits and ultimately retired in the final hour when their engine failed.
Alonso will now turn his attention back to F1 with the championship returning to France for the first time in a decade with a race at Paul Ricard next weekend.