LE MANS, France (AP) — Fernando Alonso won the 24 Hours Le Mans endurance race for the second straight year after the Toyota Gazoo team’s other car came unstuck on Sunday.
It was the two-time Formula One champion’s last race in the World Endurance Championship, and also sealed the WEC title. Alonso and his co-drivers Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, who took the checkered flag, had luck on their side in securing the title.
With about one hour left, the Toyota No. 7 car driven by José María López had to pit for a tire change when comfortably leading. The driver was not sure whether it was a sensor or a suspected puncture, but his enforced stop effectively handed the race lead to Alonso’s No. 8 car.
It was an identical result to last year with the No. 7 car — again featuring Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway — finishing second.
Although Toyota secured another 1-2, questions will be asked within the team about how No. 7 lost the race.
Buemi and Nakajima must have felt for them, too, having lost the 2016 race on the final lap after a mechanical failure.
“We really have the impression we didn’t deserve the win. Unfortunately they punctured right near the end,” Buemi told broadcaster Eurosport. “We’re well placed to know how it feels because of what happened to us in 2016. We deserved the world title after all the work we’ve done this year, but the No. 7 deserved the win today.”
Alonso echoed that.
“They really deserved the victory,” he said. “Luck is a very important part of motorsport.”
He should know after his McLaren team failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 following a calamitous series of errors .
The 37-year-old Spaniard still needs to win the Indianapolis 500 in order to match British driver Graham Hill’s feat of completing the Triple Crown: winning Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500. He has won Monaco and Le Mans twice, both of them back to back.
A total of 252,500 spectators attended the 87th edition of Le Mans, which was first held in 1923.
It was another frustrating result for Kobayashi, who drove four full seasons in F1 with one podium finish.
Kobayashi was hit by a gear box failure overnight while comfortably leading the 2017 race and had to abandon.
On Saturday, he secured pole position in about 3 minutes, 15 seconds on the 13.6-kilometer (8.43-mile) track in northern France.
Kobayashi’s No. 7 car then led the first seven hours of the race, before Alonso’s No. 8 briefly took the lead in the next hour.
Although No. 8 re-took the lead in the 11th hour, No. 7 quickly regained it and looked to have held it all the way.
Until the late incident undid 23 hours of hard toil.
The Toyota team quickly tweeted: “Dramatic and unexpected end to the race, but it’s a TOYOTA one-two nonetheless. We feel so sorry for our #7 crew, but big congratulations to our new @FIAWEC World Champions and two-time Le Mans winners.”
Two people familiar to Alonso finished in third place in the No. 11 SMP Racing car.
One was Stoffel Vandoorne — his former F1 teammate at McLaren — and the other Vitaly Petrov.
In the deciding race of the 2010 F1 championship, Alonso had a very good chance to seal a third world title.
But despite starting third, his Ferrari got stuck behind Petrov’s Renault at the Abu Dhabi GP and he ended the race in seventh spot. It cost him dearly, as he finished second in the title race — only four points behind Sebastian Vettel.
This time, the luck went Alonso’s way as he celebrated becoming a double world champion across two motorsports.
He still found time to commiserate with Kobayashi, giving him a long hug.