Le Mans - Toyota
won their first 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday with Japan's Kazuki
Nakajima at the wheel as his two co-drivers Fernando Alonso and fellow
former Formula One driver Sebastien Buemi watched from the pits.
The Spaniard won the race at his first attempt to give the Japanese
manufacturer, which had at times seemed jinxed, victory at their 20th
Alonso, a double F1 world champion, was the star turn here as
he became the sixth driver to complete the Monaco-Le Mans double after
Tazio Nuvolari, Maurice Trintignant, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt and
Only Hill also won the Indy 500 for what has become known as the
Triple Crown of motor sports and is 36-year-old Alonso's avowed goal now
he has slipped down the pack in F1.
He shared the driving in Toyota No 8 with the Swiss Buemi
and Nakajima and clearly demonstrated his skill and adaptability as a
driver to the 256 900 spectators.
In his first driving stint on Saturday, Alonso made two breathtaking
overtaking manoeuvres to pinch first place from the other Toyota, No 7, with Argentine Jose Maria Lopez at the wheel.
Late at night, after Buemi drew a one minute "stop and go" penalty,
"Nando" took over and sparkled in the darkness as he closed the gap on
the other Toyota.
Alonso climbed out of his car smiling after that shift scarcely showing signs of fatigue.
"I felt good at night. I was in the zone and I pushed to catch up," he said.
Nakajima then took the lead and with Mike Conway incurring a stop and
go penalty for Toyota No 7, Alonso's team was able to pull away finish
just over a lap ahead.
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."
The last F1 driver to win at Le Mans was Germany's Nico Hulkenberg
with Porsche in 2015, but he only entered one race, while Alonso signed
for the entire endurance season and, after winning the first two rounds,
is leading the overall standings.
Toyota is the only manufacturer with a team in the World Endurance
Championships after the withdrawals of Audi and Porsche in the last two
Their work on reliability over the winter has paid off with no sign
of the mechanical failures that had plagued the team since 2012. The
only Toyota problem this weekend came 90 minutes before the end when
Japanese Kamui Kobayashi crawled into the pit at the wheel of the Toyota
No 7 almost out of fuel.
As the clock ticked past 24 hours, the relief was visible on all the
faces of the Toyota crew in the pit and the winning drivers as they
completed a victory lap with Alonso and Buemi sitting on the car as
Nakajima, who completed the last stint, drove.
The Toyotas finished first and second in the top category, Le Mans
Prototype 1, where the competition was eight non-hybrid prototypes run
by private teams.
Five of those failed to finish, including the SMP Racing car driven
by another former F1 champion Jenson Button failed to finish.
Toyota's closest challengers were the two Rebellion Racing cars which finished 12 laps back.