Having long occupied a special place in motor racing, this year’s 86th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours has an added sense of excitement with the participation of two former Formula One world champions in Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. They will take to the track on Saturday in the highest LMP1 category, with Alonso racing for Toyota and Button for the privateer SMP team.
For Alonso, it is a step towards his goal of matching Graham Hill in winning motor racing’s triple crown, for which he needs to add Le Mans and the Indy 500 to his Monaco wins. At the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Spaniard was relaxed, yet with an appreciable sense of focus and an enthusiasm that has increasingly been missing driving an uncompetitive McLaren in F1.
Being here was special, he insisted. “The fans feel the magic of the place,” he said. “Where you have the contact with the fans, like the drivers’ parade, you feel the amazing atmosphere Le Mans has. The parade lap will be very special and I will try to enjoy every moment and have the memories for a long time.”
Alonso has been diligent in his preparation and won the opening round of the WEC in Spa, but energised by the remarkable challenge of the event. “This race is 16 F1 grands prix in 24 hours.” he said. “When I drive [my stints] it is like doing two grands prix. In F1, you have two weeks to recover, here you have four hours. There is no race tougher than this one for the car, the mechanics, the engine and the drivers.”