Fernando Alonso has been making noise about competing at Le Mans for years now. But this will be the year in which he finally does it.
The two-time Formula One champion was announced today as the latest addition to Toyota’s LMP1 lineup – not only for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but for the entire FIA World Endurance Championship.
At least, that is, where the races don’t conflict with the F1 calendar – he’ll still be competing full time with McLaren in Formula One, which will apparently take precedence.
Starting at Spa in May, Alonso will be sharing his #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid prototype with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima – both of whom also have Formula One experience. As does Anthony Davidson, who is moving over to the role of reserve/test driver to make way for Alonso (and will presumably fill in again when the Spaniard can’t make it). Buemi and Davidson together won the 2014 championship.
The #7 will be driven by once again by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and three-time touring-car champ José María López. Two-time Le Mans winner Alex Wurz will continue in his role as advisor and ambassador for the team.
“I am looking forward to seeing how much Toyota Gazoo Racing will grow when our drivers and all team members take what they have learned thus far in endurance racing and add to it what they will gain from Fernando’s experience,” said company president Akio Toyoda. “The entire team is excited about this opportunity for growth.”
Though we wouldn’t count on a “rookie” winning straight out the box, this could prove the best chance for both Alonso and Toyota to win the famous endurance race. With Audi and Porsche both having withdrawn, the team is all on its own in the LMP1 Hybrid class, challenged only by conventionally powered LMP1 independents – and between its own two cars.
Understandably disheartened after three years of struggling with the Honda engine package at McLaren, Alonso has been experimenting with other forms of racing these past couple of years. He competed in the Indianapolis 500 last year, and more recently in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
“I am very excited to participate in the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. It is a race which I have followed closely for a long time and it has always been an ambition of mine to participate,” said Alonso. “It will be a steep learning curve for me but I am ready for this challenge and I can’t wait to get started.”