Fernando Alonso secured his second Le Mans 24 Hours victory in as many years alongside Toyota teammates Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi on Sunday, as well as taking the World Endurance Championship title.
Alonso, a two-time F1 world champion, joined the Toyota team for the full 2018-19 WEC super season in the hope of adding a Le Mans 24 Hours victory to his name. The extra-long season included two of the historic races and on Sunday the No. 8 Toyota won its second in a row ahead of the sister No. 7 car.
The 2019 victory was secured in the final hour as the No. 7 Toyota made two unscheduled pit stops for slow punctures, losing a comfortable lead to the No. 8. Over the course of the 24 hours the lead swapped eight times between the two Toyotas, but the No. 7 appeared to have the race under control after a series of strong stints in the night while the No. 8 had a problem with one of its doors.
The defining moment came on lap 366 when a slow-puncture warning flashed up on the dashboard of car No. 7. Jose Maria Lopez was at the wheel at the time and nursed it back to the pits so the front right tyre could be replaced. However, the wheel change did not correct the issue and it had to return to the pits on the following lap to change all four tyres — at which point the No.8 took the lead.
For Alonso the circumstances of the victory won’t matter. Thirteen years have passed since he last became an FIA world champion with Renault in Formula One and from the start of his time with Toyota he has targeted the WEC crown. The victory also marks the end of his time in the top level of endurance racing as he has already announced his plans to pursue other challenges in 2020, including an expected return to the Indy 500, which remains elusive after he failed to qualify for this year’s event.
“The main goal this weekend was to win the championship,” he said after the race on Sunday. “The race was not playing to us today, car No.7 was quicker than us for the 24 hours, they really deserved the victory, but today the luck decided today that we would get the trophy.
“Luck sometimes plays an important part in motorsport. Today we feel extremely lucky and maybe we don’t deserve it, but we take it. The world championship feels great at this moment.”
Alongside the three ex-F1 drivers in the No. 8 car, there were three other former F1 drivers on the podium, with Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 7 Toyota and Stoffel Vandoorne and Vitaly Petrov in the No. 11 SMP Racing, which finished third in the LMP1 class.