Motor Sports

Alonso gets green light to race at Le Mans

This photo taken on November 10, 2017 shows McLaren's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso at his cockpit, during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix first practice session, at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo.AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA / ALTERNATIVE CROP

Formula One driver Fernando Alonso will further widen his repertoire by competing in this year’s 24 Hours Le Mans endurance race.

The two-time F1 champion has been given permission by McLaren to drive for Toyota at Le Mans on June 16-17. The deal means he can take part in as many World Endurance Championship rounds as possible, but must also compete in each F1 race this year.

“I have the chance thanks to McLaren to race for the win at Le Mans,” the 36-year-old Alonso said.

“It is a big challenge – much can go wrong – but I am ready, prepared and looking forward to the fight.”

After three years of struggles with Honda engines, McLaren has high hopes for the upcoming F1 season after switching to Renault. The move also did much to convince Alonso, who won his F1 titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006, to stay in F1 with McLaren.

“In no way will this challenge take away from my main target of Formula One with McLaren. My aim is to be competitive at every grand prix, and I feel sure that we are closer to achieving that,” said Alonso, who has 32 F1 wins among 97 podium finishes. “My deal to race in WEC was only made possible through the good understanding and strong relationship I have with McLaren.”

McLaren executive director Zak Brown gave Alonso his backing.

“A motivated, hungry and happy world-class driver such as Fernando is a formidable asset,” Brown said.

The revamped 2018-19 WEC season, which lasts 14 months, starts in Spa-Francorchamps in May. The 24 Hours Le Mans falls between the Canadian GP on June 10 and the French GP on June 24.

It was not immediately clear which other WEC races Alonso plans to take part in, but his F1 schedule would seemingly allow him to race in Spa on May 5 – one week prior to the Spanish GP – and at Silverstone on Aug. 19 - one week prior to the Belgian GP, also in Spa.

The 6 Hours of Fuji race on Oct. 21 clashes with the U.S. GP, ruling Alonso out. But he could make the 6 Hours of Shanghai on Nov. 18 – one week before the Abu Dhabi GP.

After racing in the Indianapolis 500 last May – when he skipped the Monaco GP the same day – Alonso made another venture into American auto racing at the 24 Hours at Daytona last weekend.

He finished a modest 13th in his class and 38th overall. But at last year’s Indy 500, he led for 27 laps before engine failure retired his car.

“I’ve never been shy about my aim of winning motorsport’s Triple Crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” Alonso said.

“We tried for Indy last year, came close, but just missed out.”

His Toyota teammates at Le Mans will be former F1 drivers Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland and Kazuki Nakajima of Japan.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 31, 2018, on page 13.

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