Fernando Alonso will get behind the wheel again today in Daytona as he begins his quest to win a 24 hour race and build up to his goal of winning Le Mans.
Alonso, 36, will share a United Autosports Ligier with McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris and Phil Hanson – both literally half his age at just 18 years – in the Florida classic, which takes place on 28/29 January. Today marks the start of three days of testing, dubbed the “roar before the 24”.
Alonso did an initial test late last year in Aragon Spain and also tested a Toyota LMP1 car, which is the hot favourite to win Le Mans 2018, as other main manufacturer rivals Porsche pulled out of the World Endurance Championship at the end of 2017.
This return to the USA for Alonso is sure to re-ignite the enthusiasm shown to him by US race fans when he made his dramatic debut at the Indianapolis 500 last year, where he was in contention for victory in the closing stages when his engine blew. His Honda powered colleague Takuma Sato won the race instead.
Alonso’s presence at Daytona is not a guarantee of success; the category is very competitive and sources at Daytona have suggested that there are up to 14 crews that are capable of winning the race.
That said, when top class drivers go there they have tended to do well; Juan Pablo Montoya has won the event three times, for example.
“I have always wanted to challenge myself in other categories of motorsport, as this is what you need to become a better driver,” Alonso said on the eve of his Daytona debut.
“Going out of my comfort zone by taking part in such an iconic race as the Daytona 24 Hours is just amazing.”
While the last few years have been lean for Alonso in Formula 1 – he hasn’t won a Grand Prix for almost five years – he has shown an admirable versatility in trying out other categories as he looks to a life after F1. At the recent FIA Hall of Fame event in Paris, where the F1 champions were inducted, I put it to him that he might emulate Mario Andretti as an F1 champion who not only raced at the top in multiple categories, but also carried on racing into his 50s. Alonso agreed that this was a realistic prospect.
The irritation for Alonso is the fact that his primary goal has not been fulfilled, which was to become a three times world champion like his idol Ayrton Senna. The 2007 season with McLaren should have brought him that, but extraordinary politics within the McLaren team and the competitiveness of his team mate Lewis Hamilton, meant that McLaren contrived to lose the drivers championship to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Since then Alonso has missed out twice in 2010 and 2012, both times with Ferrari to Sebastian Vettel.
Although the new 2018 McLaren, powered by a Renault engine, is expected to be far more competitive than the Honda powered 2017 model, it is still a stretch to imagine Alonso challenging for the world title this year, even if he is expected to be far more competitive.
So diversions like the Daytona and Le Mans 24 hours races, although his presence there is yet to be confirmed, set a new course for the Spaniard.
What do you think of Fernando Alonso’s assault on the Daytona 24 hours event? What do you think he will achieve in F1 with McLaren this season? Leave your comments in the section below