ALONSO’S DRA­MATIC DAY­TONA

SPA­NIARD’S TOR­RID FLORIDA OUT­ING

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Jamie Klein

Last week­end’s Day­tona 24 Hours marked the lat­est in­stal­ment in the blos­som­ing ro­mance be­tween Fer­nando Alonso and the United States, one that shows few signs of fad­ing.

The hype sur­round­ing Alonso’s sportscar rac­ing de­but along­side United Au­tosports team-mates Lando Nor­ris and Phil Han­son was never go­ing to match that which ac­com­pa­nied his tilt on the In­di­anapo­lis 500 last year, which marked the start of the Spa­niard’s mis­sion to em­u­late Gra­ham Hill and be­come only the sec­ond-ever man to cap­ture mo­tor­sport’s ‘Triple Crown’.

But the two-time For­mula 1 world cham­pion’s pres­ence cer­tainly added ex­tra in­trigue to a star-stud­ded Pro­to­type class, which al­ready boasted the likes of Lance Stroll, Felipe Nasr, Paul di Resta, He­lio Cas­tron­eves and Juan Pablo Montoya do­ing bat­tle along­side the cast of IMSA Sportscar Cham­pi­onship reg­u­lars.

Alonso was a fre­quent vis­i­tor to the me­dia cen­tre through­out the course of the Day­tona week­end, and on Thurs­day – shortly af­ter an open­ing prac­tice marked by a punc­ture for the #23 Ligier JS P217 – he was quizzed on just what it is about the States he finds so al­lur­ing.

“You know these places, you have these venues and these names in your head when you are a kid,” Alonso said. “When you grow up you see on tele­vi­sion these big races: the In­di­anapo­lis 500, the Day­tona 500, Day­tona 24 Hours.

“We play with lit­tle cars when we are young, and you see the name of Day­tona, In­di­anapo­lis, and one day even­tu­ally you are here as a pro­fes­sional rac­ing driver and you are rac­ing at these venues.

“Also the speed­ways are dif­fer­ent com­pared to Europe; ev­ery­thing here is big­ger, the size of ev­ery­thing is huge, the pad­dock area, all the fa­cil­i­ties here, the grand­stand. Ev­ery­thing is very im­pres­sive. It’s a nice feel­ing to put the hel­met on and go rac­ing at these iconic cir­cuits.”

While Alonso headed to Indy last year with a proven, race-win­ning team, from the out­set it was clear at Day­tona that the Ligier used by United Au­tosports was not the pick of the pro­to­type bunch – and so it came as lit­tle surprise to see him qual­ify down in 13th and al­most a full sec­ond off the quick­est of the Cadil­lac Dpis.

It was a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion in the race, how­ever, and in par­tic­u­lar as night be­gan to fall at the Florida track the #23 ma­chine slowly crept its way up the leader­board into the top 10; by the end of hour seven the car had even made it as high as fourth.

Much like in 2017 though, Alonso’s hopes were dashed by the ma­chin­ery at his dis­posal. Rather than a blown Honda power unit, the chief cul­prit this time around was a brak­ing is­sue that re­quired a lengthy trip to the garage to change the mas­ter cylin­der.

“The car felt quite com­pet­i­tive,” Alonso said af­ter the race. “It was a surprise be­cause we were not very com­pet­i­tive in prac­tice three weeks ago [dur­ing ‘Roar’ pre-event test­ing], and we were not com­pet­i­tive this week in pure lap time pace.

“In quali [the United cars] were 13th and 15th but then in the race this changed and we were prob­a­bly in the fastest three cars on track when we were run­ning.

“That gave us a lot of con­fi­dence, a lot of mo­men­tum in the night, we re­cov­ered two laps – also thanks to the safety car – and af­ter that we had a brake is­sue, the first time that had hap­pened to the team, and we lost 40 min­utes. Then we had a throt­tle is­sue and again a brake is­sue.”

Ar­guably, the star of the #23 Ligier was not Alonso, but the man he was os­ten­si­bly sup­posed to be men­tor­ing through the week­end: Mclaren F1 ju­nior Nor­ris.

Af­ter all, it was the 18-year-old that vaulted the team into some sort of con­tention for a top po­si­tion with a su­perb stint in the wet in the early evening – and ended the race with the fastest lap not only in his car but also of any LMP2 driver in the race.

Even if the Bri­ton’s efforts were later un­done when the car be­gan to ex­pe­ri­ence its is­sues, Alonso recog­nised Nor­ris’s con­tri­bu­tion, and spoke of the Carlin For­mula 2 driver in glow­ing terms when re­call­ing the young­ster’s drives.

“Re­ally, it’s not a surprise but the peo­ple who don’t know Lando, maybe it was a surprise for them,” said the Spa­niard post-race. “The stints he did were very im­pres­sive – the team­work, the prepa­ra­tion, the fo­cus.

“I think at night when we switched to wet tyres we were fifth, one minute be­hind the leader, and then we switched to slick tyres again in damp con­di­tions, Lando driv­ing, and we were 27 sec­onds be­hind the lead­ers.

“So even in wet con­di­tions, first time in pro­to­type car, first time at Day­tona, first time on Con­ti­nen­tal tires, he re­cov­ered 33 sec­onds in 20 laps, or some­thing like that. He is 18 years old, so that’s quite im­pres­sive.”

Alonso rated his chances of mak­ing his Le Mans bow this year as “60-40” af­ter the race – up from 50-50 ear­lier in the week – but did say he was keen to re­turn to Day­tona next year for a sec­ond crack at the Amer­i­can en­durance clas­sic.

“It’s a race in Jan­uary when nor­mally the mo­tor­sport cal­en­dar is quite empty, when I think for us driv­ers it’s quite con­ve­nient to come here to do this race,” he said.

“It’s an iconic race, a pres­ti­gious race and it’s in a part of the year when we are quite re­laxed, nor­mally pre­par­ing our­selves for our sea­son in what­ever cat­e­gory you are.

“In­stead of be­ing on a bi­cy­cle or in the gym, you are driv­ing, so it’s much bet­ter prepa­ra­tion.”

It cer­tainly looks as if there are still plenty more chap­ters yet to be scribed in Alonso’s own ver­sion of the Amer­i­can Dream. ■

Pho­tos: LAT

Alonso ran aboard United Au­tosports P2 Spa­niard showed his pace, but so did Nor­ris

Brak­ing is­sues hurt the Ligier in the race

Night-to-day stint was an ex­cit­ing time

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