Fernando Alonso celebrated his second straight Le Mans 24 Hour race title on Sunday in a Toyota, the two-time Formula One champion sharing the driving with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.
Another Toyota driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, was in the lead and on course for victory only to suffer a puncture one hour from the finish.
Entering the closing stages Alonso’s car lagged over a lap behind the other Toyota hybrid, before lady luck intervened an hour from the 1300GMT finish to gift them the advantage, and victory in the 87th edition of Le Mans.
Alonso’s No 8 car crossed the line 17 seconds clear of the pole-sitting No 7 after 385 laps of the iconic circuit.
The outcome was a carbon copy of 2018 and it handed Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima the endurance drivers’ title with Toyota having taken the constructors’ crown last month.
A distant third was the SMP entry driven by Vitaly Petrov, Mikhail Aleshin and Stoffel Vandoorne.
Alonso lined up in the classic race after having failed in his latest bid to complete motor racing’s ‘Triple Crown’ when he missed out on qualifying for the Indy 500 last month.
A Toyota win this year was all but guaranteed as for the last two seasons they have been the only manufacturer on the grid after Porsche and Audi pulled out of the elite LMP1 class which this year featured just six other cars.
Although Alonso will not be with them in 2020, Toyota will be on the grid after confirming they will enter a ‘hypercar’ under new regulations aimed at boosting competition and trimming costs.
Aston Martin said they too will send a team next year.
As dawn broke over the circuit in the Sarthe region of France only five of the eight cars in top LMP1 category remained.
The SMP Racing car of Stephane Sarrazin, Egor Orudzhev and Sergey Sirotkin was forced to abandon the race at around 2:00 am as it was in third place. With Orudzhev at the wheel, it went off the track and was too damaged to continue.
Most of the drama in the early hours of the race was down the field.
The Corvette of Swiss driver Marcel Fassler spun after contact with the Porsche of Japan’s Satoshi Hoshino who is driving for the team backed by film star Patrick Dempsey.
After two violent clashes with the safety barriers, the Corvette had to be lifted off the circuit by a crane with the crew forced to abandon.