Fernando Alonso has proclaimed a “fantastic debut” victory in his first FIA World Endurance Championship race for Toyota Gazoo Racing in Saturday’s season-opening Total Six Hours of Spa.
The two-time Formula One world champion took the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to a 1.444-second win over Mike Conway, in what appeared to be late-race tactics to maintain the finishing order.
Alonso saw his lead to Conway dwindle after the Spaniard was told on the radio to short-shift in order to reduce rising gearbox temperatures in his LMP1 hybrid.
He rejoined in the lead following the final round of fuel-only pit stops with 25 minutes to go, when Conway’s stop took ten seconds longer than Alonso, and crossed the line just ahead of the Englishman.
“We led basically all the laps,” Alonso said. “We had three safety cars that regrouped and we lost the advantage that we had, but we just kept the positions until the last lap.
“A fantastic debut, first endurance race in the World Championship.
“An amazing job by the team, 1-2 in qualifying, 1-2 in the race, Kazuki and Sebastien at the start pulling away. They made my life a little bit easier.”
Alonso, who had two stints at the wheel of the Toyota, admitted they took “quite a safe” approach in the race but admitted the safety cars reduced his and co-driver Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima’s advantage at points.
“Obviously I knew that it was tricky performance-wise,” he said. “We took quite a safe approach in the race knowing we had a good advantage, but then with the safety car, probably that advantage went.
“So our safe approach was not the quickest probably, and we had to fight until the end.
“But the team is amazing. A six-hour race, it seems easy, but I think the other LMP1s, they were quick at the beginning of the race, and we stopped even before them in the first stop. There was a risk there.
“Anything can happen in six hours, a lot of traffic, a lot of risky moments.
“So I think we executed the race to perfection and we have the 1-2, so it’s good for the team.”
The win marked Alonso’s first in a FIA World Championship since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, in what was his final year at Ferrari.
It was also his first win at Spa-Francorchamps since 2000 in F3000 competition when driving for Astromega.
“I won in go-karts a couple of races [since]!” he said. “[It’s] nice to be on the podium.
“I was telling the guys, Kazuki and Sebastien, this is so nice to feel the podium. I will be here all night long!”
Toyota Now Ready for Le Mans
Alonso said he now feels ready for his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut, having gone into Saturday’s race looking to prepare for the challenges ahead in next month’s French endurance classic.
“I think definitely this is a warm-up for Le Mans,” he said. “It’s a preparation, this is like a test but with points at the checkered flag.
“Definitely we wanted to test ourselves in proper race conditions with other teams, with other drivers into stress, the mechanics into stress in racing conditions, and we delivered a 1-2.
“We are ready for Le Mans. Definitely the race is a lot tougher, 24 hours, a lot of issues may appear in the 24 hours, but we are as prepared as possible. I think we will go with confidence into the race.”