Fernando Alonso won the 24 Hours of Le Mans on his debut with Toyota, who broke their long-staind Le Mans course to take a dominant victory in the 86th running of the 24 Hours.
It was all but a smooth start of the 24 Hours for Toyota car #8, the pole sitting Toyota in the hands of Sebastien Buemi was hit going into the first corner on lap one by Andre Lotterer.
Car #8 luckily escaped without any major damage after this incident.
Buemi and Conway exchanged the lead a few times in the first 60 minutes, but ultimately it was Sebastien Buemi, who led the field after the first hour with a solid 18 second gap to Mike Conway in second.
Fernando Alonso got to enjoy his first ever Le Mans stint two and a half hours into the race, replacing 2nd place running Buemi, who was 3 seconds behind the leading #7 Toyota.
Alonso was closing the gap to #7 car team-mate Jose Maria Lopez, eventually taking the lead in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in his career.
Both Toyota’s picked up punctures before the night fell, but Toyota’s lead was unchallenged by the privateer non-hybrids. Toyota #7 led the #8 Toyota.
Fernando remained calm after his stint, claiming Toyota had this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans under control:
“We were concerned about the start, the Rebellion touched our car a little bit, we saw nothing wrong with the car in the first couple of stints, but just in case, the team removed it and we took a look a good look on that rear end.”
“Everything seemed fine, as suspected. We refitted the original one again at one of the stops. It was just a sanity check.”
“The battle with the #7 car? I think it was under control. We lost a little bit of time in the pitstop, I exited the stint 14 seconds behind Pechito (Jose Maria Lopez) and then with the traffic sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts.”
“I was catching a little bit thanks to the lack of traffic, and then I had a puncture and then a safety car so we rebalanced everything again and both cars were at the exit of the pitlane, waiting for Safety Car B.”
“It’s the way it is, long race, all the race will probably be like that, little bit of luck, little bit of coincidence one or another in different parts of the race.”
“You want the car safe, in one piece, you take extra care in the pitlane, pitstops, you don’t want anything to go wrong. So far happy with the start of the 24.”
“We’re leading with a good margin and hopefully we’ll keep this for Toyota and get a little bit more safety margin. It’s a long race ahead of us.”
7-8 hours into the race, Toyota #7 driven by Kamui Kobayashi had stretched more than a 10 seconds gap to the #8 Toyota – driven by Kazuki Nakajima, the gap kept on growing, until the car was handled back to race starter Sebastien Buemi for his second stint.
Mike Conway driving the #7 Toyota extended the lead over the sister car Toyota driven by Buemi after midnight to over 35 seconds, to add insult to injury, Buemi received a 60s stop/go penalty for speeding in a slow zone.
After Sebastien Buemi served his penalty, the #8 Toyota trailed the #7 car by over 2 minutes, 10 hours into the race – the gap remained until Alonso took over for his second stint.
Fernando Alonso was a man on a mission, with his incredibly consistent lap times, he was able to chase down Jose Maria Lopez in the sister Toyota, reducing the gap from over 2 minutes to ‘just’ 44 seconds.
Fernando Alonso, after his 2nd stint:
“We had to push, obviously, we lost time with the penalty, the stop/go, so we had an unlucky situation with the safety car and things like that, so it was time to recover.”
“I felt good at night, into the zone, and I tried to push and recover – and I think it was one minute and a half. Part of the job is done, it’s still a long race ahead of us and we still need to recover a couple more seconds there.”
Kazuki Nakajima’s great penultimate stint ensured he took the lead from Kamu Kobayashi in the 24 Hour race, with 8,5 hours remaining.
Sebastien Buemi pulled off a 34s gap in the lead on his final stint, completing an incredible come-back of the #8 Toyota.
Jose Maria Lopez now driving the #7 car was more than 1,5 minute behind Fernando Alonso on this final stint, with 4 hours left in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The two Toyota TS050 Hybrids were untouchable by their LMP1 rivals through the whole weekend, but it was a tough battle between the two sister cars through the whole race.
Although in the end it was a 2 lap gap between car #8 and car #7 as Toyota #8, driven by Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima crossed the finish line to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans to the delight of everyone.
Toyota won their first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans with debutant Fernando Alonso, who now only needs to win the Indianapolis 500 to complete the triple crown of motorsport.
Fernando Alonso, Post-Race:
“I know how important and iconic Le Mans is in the world of motorsport, as a team, we achieved an amazing result – it has been amazing.”
“Every moment was a reminder of how tough and long this race is, anything could happen so we tried to execute our race and stay calm.”
“Happily, everything worked well. The race was hard because the two Toyotas were very close, less than a minute apart after 23 hours. That made it tough and competitive, but fair and very sporting. We wanted a one-two and we achieved that so I am very happy.”