Alonso/Buemi/Nakajima win Le Mans after heartbreak for sister Toyota
Toyota took a one-two formation finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans but the #7 TS050 was a heartbreaking runner-up to the #8 entry of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi, and Kazuki Nakajima.
The result could have easily gone the other way but a faulty sensor cost the quickest car in the race – the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and Jose Maria Lopez – victory with less than an hour to run.
Lopez was at the wheel when he picked up a puncture, but it was the sensor problem that caused the drama when the crew changed the wrong wheel.
When he had to stop for a second time, just a lap later, the #8 TS050 swept into the lead as Alonso/Buemi/Nakajima sealed not only another Le Mans victory but also the 2018/19 World Endurance Championship title.
However, it could have been so different and, after losing time through the night with a car that was slowed by a faulty door, Alonso had actually conceded defeat after his last driving stint.
“We knew we didn’t have the pace. We got close, but…,” lamented the Spaniard at the time.
Then he became a double Le Mans winner, just as he is a two-time Formula 1 title winner, and achieved his goal of claiming the World Endurance Championship in a gruelling double-sided program through much of last year.
“When I decided to combine Formula 1 and WEC it was to try and become world champion,” said Alonso.
There was never a chance of victory for the two Australians in the field.
Ryan Briscoe finished sixth in the GTE-Pro class with Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon as the four-car Ford GT team was effectively handicapped out of the running.
“Our car is all about momentum. We don’t have the power to pass,” he said, before running home for 25th outright.
Matt Campbell led early in GTE-Am in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche RSR, but didn’t have the pace to match the only privateer Ford GT which eventually took the class.
Stopping for a new nose during the night hammered the Campbell/Christian Ried/Julien Andlauer trio into submission and fifth at the flag (36th outright).
British-Australian James Winslow was 47th outright and 16th of 16 finishers in LMP2 with Kuba Smiechowski and Nigel Moore in their Europol Competition Team Gibson entry.
Alonso, meanwhile, was happy to celebrate a landmark win, even if he felt for his team-mates.
“Winning now in the last moment was very lucky for us. We take it,” said the Spaniard.
“It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. No words to say.
“We congratulate Car #7 because they did a better job on track. But luck was against them today.”
There were crashes and dramas as always at Le Mans, which was run in front of a crowd of 252,500 people, but the weather was kind with generally cool conditions and only one slight sprinkle of rain.
The best battle was in GTE-Pro, with Ferrari fighting against Porsche, Chevrolet and Aston Martin.
There were several lead changes, but a string of Safety Cars muddled the order and took the sting out of the fight.
Behind the big names, SMP Racing with McLaren F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne sharing with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin took third outright.
Ferrari claimed GTE-Pro while Earl Bamber, Patrick Pilet, and Nick Tandy were third in the class (22nd outright) in a factory 911 RSR.
Ford upset the form book when the only privately-owned GT claimed GTE-Am.