Fernando Alonso, Toyota, Bahrain, 2017

Can he ‘do a Hulkenberg’? Alonso’s great chance to win Le Mans

World Endurance Championship

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Fernando Alonso has never competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours before and Toyota has never won the race before. On the face of it, a first-time win for the pair in June seems unlikely.

But the expected strength of Toyota’s package, the relative weakness of the opposition, and Alonso’s undoubted skills at the wheel all point to this being a race they have a very strong chance to win.

Nico Hulkenberg/Earl Bamber/Nick Tandy, Porsche, Le Mans, 2015
Hulkenberg won Le Mans at his first attempt
Indeed, Alonso will be slotted into a driver line-up which came agonisingly close to winning Le Mans just two years ago. His new team mate Kazuki Nakajima was six minutes from victory when a power loss halted his race-leading Toyota.

That opened the door for Porsche to clinch their second win in a row. Twelve months earlier they tasted success with Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Nico Hulkenberg – the latter providing ample proof a Formula One driver can take time out of a full season’s grand prix racing to win endurance racing’s biggest prize at their first attempt.

But what happened next for Porsche, and their sister Volkswagen Group team Audi, explains why Toyota has their best ever chance to win this year. Stung by the Dieselgate scandal and needing to make billions in savings, Volkswagen axed both teams in consecutive years.

That leaves Toyota the only manufacturer left fielding the LMP1 hybrid design favoured by the rulebook. While a new roster of customer LMP1 teams running conventional cars will appear this year, the prospects of them challenging the might of Toyota are not realistic.

This highlights another reason why Toyota wanted to hire Alonso, besides the obvious point that he is a world-class driver. Without a manufacturer opponent the interest in this year’s race will be greatly diminished. And bringing Alonso means a chance the headlines are more likely to be ‘Alonso wins with Toyota’ rather than ‘Toyota takes inevitable win’.

He’s already got one 24-hour race under his belt. By the time he arrives at the Circuit de la Sarthe he will have done one race in the TS050 and no doubt piled on many more testing miles.

When Alonso competed in the Indianapolis 500 last year he was up against 32 drivers in very similar equipment. At the 86th Le Mans 24 Hours there will be only one other Toyota TS050 on the track. That will be one of his biggest threats.

The other will be the fickle hand of fortune. Because if Le Mans teaches racing drivers anything, it’s that 24 hours is an awfully long time for everything to keep going right.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 20 comments on “Can he ‘do a Hulkenberg’? Alonso’s great chance to win Le Mans”

    1. If there’s one thing you can take away from his attempt at the ‘500 last year, it’s how seriously he takes the challenges he sets for himself. On the face of it, all the stars appear aligned (perhaps to the point of slightly devaluing the overall win, but people can make their own minds up), but even with what appears to be a huge advantage, you can take it as read that Alonso’s preparation for the race will be absoutely meticulous. He’ll be spending as much time in the car and the simulator as humanly possible, while taking all the learning he can over the nuances of both the Circuit La Sarthe and 24hour racing on the whole. He would also be wise to spend some time speaking with the numerous ex-F1 drivers who have made the transition to endurance racing.

      His biggest challenge will likely be negotiating traffic, particularly at night or in changeable conditions. While he may not have to spend a lot of time looking in his mirrors, he’ll need to remain totally focused when overtaking slower cars, particularly on the faster parts of the track. The driver he’s displacing can certainly attest to how seriously things can go wrong when you misjudge it when lapping a GT car. Though his task should at least be sightly simpler than Davidson’s was at the time, given that the speed difference on the straights is now much greater between LMP1 and GTE than it was before the era of the mega hybrids.

      As with every Le Mans though, nothing is ever guaranteed. That car needs to run reliably for 24 hours solid, without crashing, and without being crashed into. Simply making it to the end of the LM24 is a huge achievement in itself. Winning it, even when the stars align, is one of the greatest challenges in modern motorsport. But if anyone is up to the challenge, it is surely Fernando Alonso.

      1. But will he be satisfied with victory against the depleted field?

        1. @shimks Speaking as someone who has been to numerous 24h Du Mans, I really can’t imagine anyone ever being dissatisfied with winning it. As I say, just finishing the thing is a monumental undertaking, let alone being the fastest crew across the duration. No matter how strong the field or how fast the race, no matter the laps covered, the end is always an incredible, emotional event, the power of which is hard to convey.

        2. In years to come, the history books will simply say Le Mans winner. There will be no * asterisk to give context of an “easy win”.
          I think if he can win, he’s as much beaten his own car as the rest of the field. Toyota’s biggest challenge is it’s own reliability, regardless of who is driving.

          1. @shims, I fully agree with what both @eurobrun and @mazdachris say; LeMans 24h is never ‘easy’ even if there have been seasons in the last decade when Audi made it almost made it seem thus; the fate of just Toyota, Audi, and Porche in the last three years gives many examples where even if your car seems capably fast, reliable, easy on the tyres and frugal, a lot can still go wrong in those 24hours with many different cars and drivers on track. Finishing alone is an effort and achievement, being the winner means you had some luck and a lot of hard work paid off, and no one in the team made a mistake too big to recover from during that.

            1. That was meant to be @shimks, sorry for the typo.

          2. Yes there will, but that has always been the case. Bentleys raced to victory 2003 by having a completely made up class of their own to race in for the feelgood story of “The Bentley Boys”, Ford stole 2016 by entering essentially a prototype for “The Return of The GT”.
            LeMans is and always has been about making stories. The winners are the ones best at making the best of the given circumstances. Sometimes the circumstances are just made to suit the story

        3. @mazdachris @eurobrun @bosyber

          Thanks for all the replies! Interesting to hear your thoughts. The reliability and concentration needed to race for 24 hours – I can hardly imagine it!

        4. I have to think he will be satisfied. As others have said, just finishing the race is an achievement and the drivers in the other Toyota are no mugs. Even if his only challenge is to beat the other car, it will be a tough fight and will be one he should be proud of (if he does it).

    2. Can he win LeMans and an F1 race in the same season? That would be epic.

    3. Forza, Nando!
      You can do it!
      Blast LeMans!

    4. He’s definitely going for the triple crown, I hope he gets it!

    5. I know for sure that “Everything keeps going right” was a Toyota tag line in South Africa when I was growing up. Was it also their tag line in the UK? If not I suspect that @dieterrencken may have had a hand in the last line of this article!

      1. I assure you it was all @keithcollantine ‘s own work, hence the sole byline. But you do have a good remember that ‘going right’ jingle 👍

        1. It’s been stuck in my head since I read that line…

    6. It is not exactly the same as Hulkenberg, because he basically won`t have opposition. Porshe is no longer there and if the realibility is good, the chance for a win is big enough.

    7. Shame he isn’t contesting in the 500 this year, or is that yet to be announced. He already stole much of the attention from the Gen2 FE car, so which other announcement are we waiting for?

    8. Can we congratulate him now for being with the winning LMP1 manufacturer?

    9. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
      1st February 2018, 1:46

      As I have never seen or read about a 24-hour race, how do they divide the driving stints? Does one driver race 8 hours straight? Do they run almost the same distance, or it’s team strategy to decide who runs longer?

    10. I hope Alonso wins this – his past two exploits outside F1, the Indy 500 and the Daytona 24 Hours did not yield any positive results though he managed to really impress everyone and convince the world of his legendary status. It’s been so long since Alonso won anything. I hope the Renault engine and McLaren chassis deliver opportunities to at least grab some podiums if not wins. Le Mans seems to be his best chance to win something big – hope the circumstances enable him to achieve it.

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