ALONSO AT LAST
At Le Mans 2018, the great Spaniard finally won another major race. What’s next?
The final element of the Triple Crown, if it comes, will be hard won
YOU have to feel for Toyota. Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans is an achievement, both regardless and because of the circumstances. This, however, seemed forgotten with all the headlines focused on Fernando Alonso, as if he had been the sole driver in the winning Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
Very little was said about the Japanese team’s extensive preparation this time or the heart-breaking failures in previous years. There was more about the actual worth of Alonso’s result in a race Toyota could only lose.
There were endless column inches about how the result had been devalued by the rules requiring the meagre non-hybrid opposition to run longer between pit stops; or how Toyota allegedly manufactured the headline win for the Spaniard; or … well, name just about anything the Alonso detractors could think of when posting in sometimes virulent fashion.
The fact is, Alonso’s late night/early morning stint was classic Le Mans as he got into a rhythm in traffic and added the best part of two minutes to the lead. Don’t forget, we’re talking not only about lapping much slower cars, but also one or two unpredictable drivers who would struggle to be runner-up in a club event, never mind cope with Mulsanne, at out, at night.
The winning Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima (who put the car on pole), Sebastien Buemi and Alonso nished two laps in front of its sister car and almost 120 miles ahead of the Rebellion in third; more ammunition for critics comparing Alonso to Hill. But here’s the thing: the Matra driven by Hill and Henri Pescarolo in 1972 won by 10 laps and got there thanks to one Matra blowing up in front of the pits at the end of the rst lap and the other, also while leading, being hit up the rear by a Chevrolet Corvette.
Le Mans was the only race undertaken by Matra-simca that year while the rest – Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Lola and Porsche – took part in an 11-round championship that included the Targa Florio, plus 1 000 km races at the old Spa and the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Meanwhile, Matra tested relentlessly at the Paul Ricard track, eventually making a V12 that could last for 24 hours. And, then, as if to further increase the possibly of the rst French win at Le Mans in 22 years, Ferrari withdrew all four cars a week before thanks to having already steamrollered the title.
None of this, however, in any way denigrates Hill’s achievement, particularly on a weekend when his friend, Jo Bonnier, was fatally injured when his Lola ew into the trees at Indianapolis Corner following a collision while lapping a Ferrari Daytona.
The history of the 24 Hours is peppered with tragedy, hard luck, fortitude and the art of being there at the end. Hill was part of a winning team at Le Mans. As was Alonso. Job done. Move on.
Where to? Well, it’s a future that seems inextricably linked to matching Graham Hill’s singular achievement of winning the so-called Triple Crown. The popular view is that the Triple Crown consists of victories at Le Mans, the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, even though Hill, in his own words, referred to the F1 element as being the world championship rather than Monaco. No matter. Alonso – as did Hill – qualifies on both counts, the Spaniard having won at Monaco in 2006 and 2007, and claiming two world titles.
Given the Mclaren F1 team’s present hopeless state and Alonso receiving another reminder (following a win for Toyota at Spa) of the heady air at the top of a podium, there seems little reason why he should stay in F1 for 2019 and strong motivation to consider a season of endurance racing that blends nicely with a year in IndyCar and allows a suitable build-up to the Indy 500.
That said, without meaning to contradict the above defence of Alonso’s victory at Le Mans, and as editor Steve Smith described in last month’s issue, winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of May is likely to be more challenging and less predictable than any charge through the Sarthe on a busy evening in June. The nal element of the Triple Crown, if it comes, will be hard won. But none of that should diminish Toyota’s long-awaited moment in the sun.