LE MANS, France (AP) — Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso won the 24 Hours Le Mans on his debut in the classic endurance race on Sunday to move closer to motorsport’s unofficial Triple Crown.
The Spanish driver, together with teammates Kazuki Nakajima of Japan and Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland, completed 388 laps in their Toyota hybrid car, two more than Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in the other Toyota hybrid.
Alonso is bidding to match British driver Graham Hill’s feat of completing the Triple Crown, including wins at the Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500. Alonso is a two-time winner in Monaco.
“Le Mans once a year is not enough! It needs to be every three weeks,” joked Alonso, who looked to be in trouble when Buemi was penalized for speeding in a caution zone late Saturday.
Alonso’s car was left more than two minutes behind the other Toyota but the Spaniard managed to claw back the difference through the night, putting Nakajima in position to retake the lead from Kobayashi early on Sunday.
“I felt great tonight,” Alonso said after his final stint driving. “I don’t know exactly how, but I managed to make the tires work for us at the right time despite the cool air temp. Our pace has been good and I was lucky with the traffic as well.”
It was Toyota’s first victory at the 20th attempt, and the first win for a Japanese manufacturer since Mazda’s success in 1991.
Former Formula One champion Jenson Button raced for the private SMP team, but the Briton’s non-hybrid car faced early problems with engine trouble that forced its retirement in the final hour.
Some 60 factory and private teams competed in the 86th edition of the race.
Lewiston native Patrick Dempsey got to celebrate Sunday. One of the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSRs he co-owns won the GTE-Am class. The No. 77 car was driven by Matt Campbell, Christian Reid and Julien Andlauer.