Fernando Alonso will make his long-awaited sports car racing debut in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with United Autosports, the Anglo-American squad confirmed on Thursday.
The two-time Formula 1 World Champion will line up in one of the team’s Ligier JS P217 Gibson LMP2 cars for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener, joining McLaren junior Lando Norris and Phil Hanson, with Williams F1 reserve driver Paul di Resta and Will Owen so car confirmed for the second entry.
As revealed first by Sportscar365 earlier this month, Alonso had been linked to a Rolex 24 drive with the team, co-owned by McLaren executive director Zak Brown, with one industry source indicating that a deal was “80 percent likely” to happen.
In an exclusive interview, Brown said there would be a seat available for the Spaniard in one of the team’s Prototype entries should he be interested to drive, with further talks intensifying during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend at Circuit of The Americas, where Alonso revealed his desire to take part in the race.
It’s understood the Daytona drive is to help give the 36-year-old some sports car racing experience prior to a possible debut in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, which has been on Alonso’s radar since outlining his goal to win the ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport.
Alonso, a two-time Monaco Grand Prix winner, made his Indianapolis 500 debut last year in a McLaren-backed entry from Andretti Autosport, although has ruled out a return to the race this year due to his full-season F1 commitments.
“The Daytona 24 Hours is the most iconic U.S. endurance race and one of the world’s great races,” Alonso said. “Everyone knows it. It’s not part of the Triple Crown but, as I have always said, my aim is to be a complete driver and this experience will help me in the preparation for any other endurance race I might take part in.
“Before I went to Indy, I had never driven on an oval, now I know what an oval is and how to deal with it.
“I am excited to go back and race in America. After the great time I had during the month of May for the Indy 500, I am looking forward to taking part in another legendary race that will bring back all those amazing sensations that U.S. fans gave me.”
Brown added: “I’m thrilled we have managed to put a deal together to get Fernando in the car at Daytona. Although he hasn’t driven an LMP2 car before I’m confident he will pick it up quickly.
“He’s one of the best drivers around so it will be great to have him as part of the team, not only for his speed, but for his experience and the invaluable knowledge he will pass onto Phil and Lando.”
United Autosports recently claimed its second consecutive European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship, while also placing second in the LMP2 title race in its first season in the category.
“To say we are running Fernando Alonso at Daytona for the 24-hour race is pretty special for everybody here at United Autosports,” said team co-owner and managaing director Richard Dean.
“Fernando is a quality act and will take to sports cars immediately. He has such a wealth of racing experience and this will no doubt be a huge benefit to the team and his young teammates throughout the week of the iconic Rolex Daytona 24 Hours.
“We have a very exciting lineup and I expect to be very competitive.”