Alonso, Nakajima and Buemi win Le Mans for Toyota!

Le Mans winners Fernando Alonso (ESP); Kazuki Nakajima (JPN); and Sebastien Buemi (SUI) #08 Toyota
© XPB 

Fernando Alonso has succeeded in his dream of winning the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race at his first attempt.

Along with his #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing team mates Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi, the two-time world champion dominated the final hours of the race on Sunday.

The #8 had gone into the night in second place behind the sister #7 car, but a faultless drive in the dark from Alonso put Nakajima in position to take the lead at first light.

"I felt good at night, into the zone, and I tried to push," Alonso said after his final stint. "Sometimes you get frustrated with traffic, sometimes you get lucky. Also my laps, when I got lucky, it’s a nice feeling!"

After that there was little doubt about the winning team. Nakajima was given the honour of driving the final stint and crossing the line to record Toyota's first-ever Le Mans victory.

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López had to settle for second place in the race, following a late scare when the #7 was seen running at speed on the run down the Mulsanne straight with 100 minutes remaining.

It transpired that Kobayashi had missed pit entry and been forced to run an extra lap in power saving mode. That incurred penalties for exceeding the allowed amount of fuel, and also for overrunning his allowed stint duration. It meant the #7 dropped two laps behind the leader, duly sealing the result.

Toyota's win has been widely expected, as they were the only two factory hybrid cards in competition after last year's winners Porsche decided to end their participation at the end of 2017. However reliability had been an issue for Toyota in previous years, and there was a big question mark over which of the manufacturer's cars would clinch the chequered flag.

24 Heures du Mans 13-17/06/18 Le Mans - France LMP1 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING TS050

© WRI2

Alonso's victory means that he now has two of the three parts of the Triple Crown of Motorsport. Having won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007, all he needs now to emulate Graham Hill is to win himself a glass of milk in victory circle in Indianapolis in May.

Behind the two Toyotas, the #3 Rebellion Racing car driven by Thomas Laurent, Mathias Beche and Gustavo Meneze took the remaining podium place ahead of the sister #1 car which had recovered from a first lap accident for André Lotterer on Saturday. Both cars suffered technical gremlins overnight but held on to finish the race albeit ten laps behind the second Toyota.

The pair were just ahead of the leading #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca Gibson LMP2 entry. A mighty performance from Jean-Éric Vergne and team mates Roman Rusinov and Andréa Pizzitola had kept it at the top of the class for much of the race, ahead of the #36 Signatech Alpine driven by Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrão and Pierre Thiriet. The #39 Graff-SO24 Racing Oreca of Tristan Gommendy, Jonathan Hirschi and Vincent Capillaire was a surprised third in class.

In the GTE-Pro category, the 'Pink Pig' #92 Porsche claimed honours for drivers Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor. The second retro-liveried Porsche, the 'Rothmans' #91, was runner-up in the hands of Richard Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Frédéric Makowiecki. They were followed to the line by the #68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA driven by Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sebastien Bourdais, and by the UK team of Andy Priaux, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan in the #67.

And in the GTE-Am class, Patrick Dempsey's #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing car clinched victory with Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer handling driving duties. Runners-up were two Ferraris - the #54 Spirit of Race driven by Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Giancarlo Fisichella, and the #85 Keating Motorsports entry with Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Luca Stolz on board.

Among the retirements from the race was the #11 SMP Racing BR entry. It had previously suffered an agonising two hour delay in the garage on Saturday for a sensor failure after just one hour on track, and dropped 48 laps down before resuming.

Fernando Alonso (ESP); Kazuki Nakajima (JPN); and Sebastien Buemi (SUI) celebrate pole position at Le Mans

However, Jenson Button and his team mates Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin used the remaining race as an extended test session and inched their way back up the timesheets, before Button went off at Indianapolis in the final hour and was forced to retire for good.

Another former Formula 1 driver had run into trouble at the same corner on Saturday evening. Juan Pablo Montoya - making his first appearance in Le Mans - locked up and went into the tyre barrier in the #32 United Autosports Ligier LMP2 car, in what he later explained was a case of "running out of talent.”

Fortunately the car was quickly retrieved and able to continue. It went on to finish the race in ninth place, fifth in class despite suffering a puncture in the penultimate hour.

Paul di Resta had a more serious accident which put him out of a likely LMP2 podium in the #22 sister car he shared with with Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson. The DTM driver and Sky Sports F1 presenter went off at high speed in the Porsche Curves in Hour 20 and hit a concrete wall, demolishing the car. The driver was taken to the medical centre for checks.

"Paul is physically fine, he's obviously upset," team owner Zak Brown told Eurosport. "We had a great race going, he drove as did his teammates really well."

"He just had a snap oversteer moment, corrected the first time but couldn't quite save the second," the McLaren F1 CEO added. "He feels fine, but his ego's a bit bruised."

"Massive apologies to the team, who busted their asses and their balls all night," said di Resta after being released from the medical centre. "“We were on the edge all the way, but I’ve got to apologise for making a costly error that’s ended our chances.

"It looked like we could have been on the podium. But you can always say what could have been." Which is perhaps as good a strapline for the unique experience of Le Mans as you can hope for.

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