Le Mans (France) (AFP) – Fernando Alonso said he was happy with his first spell at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race on Saturday although he admitted the heavy traffic on track was a different challenge to the rarified air of Formula One.
Alonso, bidding to win the second leg of motor racing’s Triple Crown of the Monaco GP, Le Mans and the Indy 500, drove the Toyota No8 for a two-hour and forty-five-minute burst.
By 1905 GMT, his Japanese team-mate Kazuki Nakajima was 3.884 seconds ahead of the Toyota No7 driven by Kamui Kobayashi.
“I’m happy with the way we started, the two cars are off, it’s a very good start and we have to continue like this,” said Alonso, a two-time F1 world champion.
“Everything was under control, we lost a little time to change the driver, then the traffic helps sometimes and sometimes it hurts.
“I was catching up (Jose Maria Lopez, driving the No7) when there was no traffic, then he punctured, then the safety car came out, it put things back to zero.”
“It’s like that, it’s a long race, it’ll probably be like this all along: a little bit of luck, some bad luck.”
Earlier Saturday, Rafael Nadal, fresh from his 11th Roland Garros title last week, waved the flag to start Alonso and the other 59 cars in the race.
Jacky Ickx, six-time winner at Le Mans, drove the lead car on the warm-up as race Grand Marshall saying he accepted the position “because it was the only way for me to be in front of him (Alonso) one day”.
Alonso is aiming for the second leg of motor-racing’s triple crown, having won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007. That would leave the Indy 500.
Only Graham Hill has achieved the feat.
Toyota occupied both places on the front row of the grid as they set off in pursuit of a first victory at Le Mans in their 19th attempt.
The Japanese constructor, the only major manufacturer racing in WEC this year, has entered two hybrid vehicles and faces competition in the premier category, Le Mans Prototype 1, from eight non-hybrids run by private teams as well as 20 cars in LMP2 and 30 more in two GTE categories
In addition to Alonso, two other noted Formula One drivers are making their Le Mans debuts — British former World champion Jenson Button is driving for SMP Racing and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya for United Autosports.