MIAMI,. Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso sparked his team to victory yesterday in the rain-hit 24 Hours of Daytona.
The 37-year-old added the epic US endurance event to a list of career achievements that includes 32 F1 race wins and world titles in 2005 and 2006.
“Amazing. Just an amazing experience from the test and perfect execution for the race,” Alonso said. “We were competitive in everything — dry, wet, night, day.”
Alonso got his first taste of endurance racing last year at Daytona, struggling with mechanical problems to finish 38th overall, but he went on to win last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This year, Alonso drove the winning car into Daytona’s Victory Lane, celebrated with a Spanish flag draped over his shoulders and pondered where the victory fits among his career highlights.
“I think it will rank very high,” Alonso said. “To win endurance races in iconic places like Daytona is great. I haven’t been doing this very long. I’ve been in the right place at the right moment so I’m happy for that.”
Alonso spent this weekend in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. for Wayne Taylor Racing that started sixth on Saturday afternoon with co-drivers Kamui Kobayashi, American Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande.
“I’m really happy for these guys,” he said.
Alonso will try to join Britain’s Graham Hill as the only racers to win the Triple Crown of the Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 when he competes in the latter on May 26.
The Spaniard helped move the Taylor car to the front early and Kobayashi’s overnight work helped keep it in front when rains struck early yesterday, leaving cars skidding and spraying water in unsafe conditions.
The key pass came when Brazil’s Felipe Nasr skidded out of the lead on a turn in the morning rain and Alonso kept his composure and stayed in front until the race was halted, never to restart after an unprecedented second red flag for rain.
At 2.25pm (1925 GMT, 3.25am Monday, Malaysia Time), 10 minutes early due to the soggy conditions, the checkered flag flew and Alonso could celebrate being a Le Mans and Daytona endurance king.
South African car owner Taylor knew it was time to stop when he heard Alonso on the radio trying to hang on.
“Fernando Alonso is probably one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known,” Taylor said. “When he came on the radio and was talking in fear, I realized they were doing the right thing (to stop racing).”
Taylor enjoyed his US sons each making the podium, Jordan for the winners and Ricky in third.
“Normally I’d be in a bad mood about this (rain) but I’m trying to be in a positive mood. To have both my kids in the top three is pretty amazing,” Taylor said.
Hours of early morning rain spelled doom for the hopes of Alonso’s nearest rivals.
‘This is survival’
The race was halted with Alonso’s car ahead of US racer Eric Curran and Brazilian drivers Nasr and Pipo Derani.
“This is the worst racing conditions ever. This is not racing anymore. This is survival,” Curran said.
“I don’t want to see a bunch of cars get wrecked and anybody get hurt. It’s miserable. You’re focused on keeping the car on the track instead of racing.”
“I’ve never seen a race like this,” said octogenarian race team owner Roger Penske, whose Acura car sat in third, with Indianapolis 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi and Taylor’s son Ricky behind the wheel.
Alonso’s remaining 2019 schedule includes the 1,000 miles of Sebring on March 15 and the 6 Hours of Spa on May 4 before his bid to win the Indy 500.
He will close the campaign in June at Le Mans, the 2018-19 World Endurance Championship season finale. — AFP