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Alonso lucks out in back-to-back Le Mans titles

By AFP - Jun 17,2019 - Last updated at Jun 17,2019

Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 of Japanese’s driver Kazuki Nakajima (right) Spain’s driver Fernando Alonso (2nd left) and Switzerland’s driver Sebastien Buemi (2nd right) celebrate on podium after winning in the 87th edition of the 24 hours Le Mans endurance race in Le Mans, France, on Sunday (AFP photo by Fred Tanneau)

LE MANS, France — Fernando Alonso celebrated a “lucky” second straight Le Mans 24 Hour race title on Sunday in a Toyota, the two-time Formula One champion sharing the wheel with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.

Another Toyota driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, was in the lead and on course for victory only to suffer a puncture one hour from the finish.

Entering the closing stages Spaniard Alonso’s car with Nakajima driving lagged over a lap behind the other Toyota hybrid, before fortune intervened to gift them the advantage, and victory in the 87th edition of Le Mans in front of a crowd of over 250,000 committed motor enthusiasts.

Alonso’s No. 8 entry crossed the line 17 seconds clear of the pole-sitting No. 7 after 385 laps of the iconic circuit.

“It was luck that gave us the trophy, we’ll take it, because motorsport is like that. I hope they’ll win next year,” said Alonso.

His Swiss teammate Buemi, also a former F1 driver, added: “It wasn’t fair for the No. 7 car.

“I can imagine what they are feeling after 2016 in the last lap for us, it must be terrible.”

Three years ago Buemi was in the team assured of victory only for their Toyota to lose power when in the lead on the final lap.

The 1-2 outcome was a carbon copy of 2018 and it handed Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima the endurance drivers’ title with Toyota having taken the constructors’ crown last month.

A distant third was the SMP entry driven by Vitaly Petrov, Mikhail Aleshin and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Toyota’s post-race tweet contained mixed emotions: “Dramatic and unexpected end to the race, but it’s a TOYOTA one-two nonetheless. We feel so sorry for our #7 crew, but big congratulations to our new @FIAWEC World Champions and two-time Le Mans winners.”

Alonso, 37, lined up in the classic race after having failed in his latest bid to complete motor racing’s “Triple Crown” when he missed out on qualifying for the Indy 500 last month.

A Toyota win this year was all but guaranteed as for the last two seasons they have been the only manufacturer on the grid after Porsche and Audi pulled out of the elite LMP1 class which this year featured just six other cars.

Although Alonso will not be with them in 2020, Toyota will be back after confirming they will enter a ‘hypercar’ under new regulations aimed at boosting competition and trimming costs.

Aston Martin said they too will send a team next year.

As dawn broke over the circuit in the Sarthe region of France only five of the eight cars in top LMP1 category remained.

The SMP Racing car of Stephane Sarrazin, Egor Orudzhev and Sergey Sirotkin was forced to abandon the race at around 2 am as it was in third place. With Orudzhev at the wheel, it went off the track and was too damaged to continue.

Most of the drama in the early hours of the race was down the field.

The Corvette of Swiss driver Marcel Fassler spun after contact with the Porsche of Japan’s Satoshi Hoshino who is driving for the team backed by film star Patrick Dempsey.

After two violent clashes with the safety barriers, the Corvette had to be lifted off the circuit by a crane with the crew forced to abandon.

While Alonso is bypassing Le Mans next year to concentrate on other projects, probably the Dakar Rally, he said he would return.

“This isn’t my last lap at Le Mans. I’ll be back in the future, perhaps in a hypercar or something else,” he told the circuit’s radio station.

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