Fernando Alonso wins Le Mans 24 on debut with Toyota


Toyota had never won the sportscar race despite years of trying but finally delivered in an event in which they were effectively without opposition.

Fernando Alonso admitted on Sunday (Jun 17) that attempting to win the Indy 500 and become just the second man to win motor racing's Triple Crown would be "very tempting".

The talents of Jean-Eric Vergne though provided the real punch that saw the early advantage for the team defended with most vigour, put simply this was a race that the team, and all three drivers deserved to win. Despite losing time behind due to an ill-timed safety auto, double F1 champ Alonso put in a long and strong stint to close the gap, before his vehicle built a solid lead on Sunday morning.

Some 60 factory and private teams competed in the 86th edition of the race.

Alonso shared the number eight Toyota TS050 hybrid with Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan's Kazuki Nakajima, who secured pole position and took the chequered flag.

The advantage seemed to have swung to the number seven auto when Buemi was penalised with a 60-second stop-and-go penalty for speeding in a caution zone shortly after night fell on Saturday.

Alonso's auto was left more than two minutes behind the other Toyota but the Spaniard managed to claw back the difference through the night, putting Nakajima in position to retake the lead from Kobayashi early on Sunday. "We did seem to have to bring the auto into the box on a number of occasions". Both cars took turns leading the race during the 5,286 km (3,284 miles) traveled by the two vehicles.

Toyota Wins 24 Hours of Le Mans 2018
Toyota Wins 24 Hours of Le Mans 2018

The second vehicle fielded by Toyota and driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José María López, the #7, managed to finish the race in second place. One of its cars made the finish, albeit well down the order after numerous problems.

His auto was out of contention early on after spending two hours in the pits with an engine problem. Jenson Button's BR Engineering BR1, which included Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin, was pulled from the race in the final hour.

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. However, as time has shown, having the fastest vehicle is no guarantee of success.

Their work on reliability over the winter has paid off with no sign of the mechanical failures that had plagued the team since 2012.

For now this is about the winners and that, in emphatic style, was Porsche, the splendid 911 RSR grabbed the headlines at launch for its mid-engined configuration, then a year ago for a fabulous soundtrack with a revised exhaust, then at Test Day for the master stroke of the pair of heritage liveries on the pair of FIA WEC cars and now with the car's first WEC win on the World Championship's biggest stage. The automaker best known for Camrys and Corollas will create the advanced hypercar in line with a new Le Mans racing class set to arrive in 2020.

There have been questions about whether it was a demonstration rather than a race, because of the obvious promotional benefits for all involved if Alonso won. It means that no one was able to relax until the very last minute and the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing auto was safely home.

Before the race, Buemi who, like Nakajima, had been vainly chasing a Le Mans victory since 2012, said Alonso "was a real plus for the team".

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