Fernando Alonso's World Endurance Championship story started out as expected with a win at the Six Hours of Spa in May. He and the rest of the No. 8 Toyota crew have been predicted as favorites, as well as their stablemates in the No. 7 entry, for this June's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Now, as the first tests for the day-long French classic have concluded, Alonso & Co. sit on top of the leaderboard after managing a fastest time of 3:19.066 around the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The Spaniard's best lap was quick enough to clear the No. 3 Rebellion-Gibson R13 by six-tenths of a second. In a session where Toyota claimed the non-hybrid LMP1 entries to be "very serious competitors" to its TS050 Hybrid, the gap was marginal as the No. 7 Toyota of Mike Conway finished the day in third place with a time of 3:20.008.
"It was a lot of fun out there—the track is beautiful and fits perfectly with the LMP1s," said Alonso. "It was enjoyable for me and we got the info we needed from the test."
As for Jenson Button, Fernando's former teammate at McLaren F1, the weekend's tests proposed other concerns. This year will be Button's first attempt at the 24 Hours as well, but as he and his SMP Racing teammates dealt with reliability issues during testing, there will be a significant learning curve to adjust to the endurance epic.
"I was reasonably happy, but in the morning I found it another world—driving around here in a car I don't really know," Button said. "I found it quite disconcerting. But we made some good changes over lunch, and I was much happier with the car in the afternoon. [I had] a lot more confidence. High speed, good confidence, and the braking was much better too."
The 2009 Formula 1 champ continued, "A lot of the corners here are very tight and they come up on you very quickly, which is very different from what I'm used to. I definitely got to grips with it in the afternoon, much happier. But you always want more running, and new tires."
"Hopefully we get some good laps in the Wednesday tests."
The 2018 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours will take place June 16-17.