Fernando Alonso feels “more prepared” for a possible debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans later this year after completing his first sports car race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona over the weekend.
The two-time Formula 1 world champion took his first step to an anticipated Le Mans debut by joining up with United Autosports for the Rolex 24, racing alongside McLaren junior Lando Norris and Phil Hanson.
Alonso qualified 13th in the No. 23 Ligier JS P217 on Thursday and took the start of the race, making up positions early on and even leading briefly while cars ahead pitted earlier.
Technical issues blighted Alonso’s hopes of reaching the podium at Daytona, with a lengthy repair in the garage required overnight following a brake cylinder failure after an earlier puncture had dropped the trio off the lead lap.
Further problems through the day saw the No. 23 Ligier fall further back from the leaders, with Alonso’s final stint coming to an end with a visit to the garage after another braking problem was discovered.
The Spaniard handed over to Norris to complete the final stint, who crossed the line in 38th place, 90 laps down on the race-winning Action Express entry.
Alonso has long held a desire to race at Le Mans as part of his bid to become just the second driver in history to complete the ‘triple crown of motorsport’ by taking victories at Le Mans, the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.
He said that he found the Rolex 24 to “absolutely” be a perfect preparation for a possible Le Mans entry, and feels he would be more prepared for the race than he was for his Indy 500 debut, where he qualified fifth and was in contention for a shock victory at one stage.
“[Daytona is] a very nice event, very nice driving this car,” Alonso said, before detailing some of the new things he learned in sports car racing after spending his career to date in single-seaters.
“The whole event, practice and the race, driver changes, communication, driver preparation between the stints, how much rest you are able to have, how much of a balance you need to give the garage, how much focus you need to have on the race, and how to get ready to jump in the car, sometimes when you expect and sometimes when the engineer says ‘it’s time to go’.
“As I said before coming here, when I went to Indianapolis, it was the first time for me in oval racing and first time for many things.
“As [my sports car debut] happened here, if and when I will be at Le Mans, it will be the second time at least, so I will be much more prepared.”
Alonso is widely expected to join Toyota for Le Mans later this year, and has also been linked with a larger FIA World Endurance Championship program due to a lack of clashes with his F1 commitments.
Asked earlier this week how plans for Le Mans in 2018 were progressing, Alonso rated his chances as “50/50”, having tested Toyota’s LMP1 car in Bahrain last November.
Post-race at Daytona, he increased those chances to “60/40.”
Toyota is set to confirm its lineup for Le Mans and the WEC ‘Super Season’ in early February, with Alonso provisionally able to feature in every round in 2018 except the Six Hours of Fuji, which clashes with the United States Grand Prix.
Daytona Return of Interest to Alonso
Alonso also confirmed he would be interested in returning to the Rolex 24 in the future, identifying it as a good way to keep sharp during the F1 off-season.
“I think it’s a race that is in January where normally the motorsport calendar is quite empty, where I think for us drivers it’s quite convenient to come here to do this race,” he said.
“It’s an iconic race, a prestigious race. As I said this is one part of the year when we are quite relaxed, normally preparing ourselves for our season in whatever category you are.
“Instead of being on the bicycle or in the gym, you are driving, so it’s a nice way.”