Toyota team director Rob Leupen says double Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso was “exceptional” on his Le Mans 24 Hours debut in helping Toyota to finally win the race.
Alonso won alongside Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 TS050 Hybrid, which beat the sister #7 car to victory by one lap.
The McLaren F1 driver, who is contesting the World Endurance Championship superseason with Toyota, led the race on Saturday afternoon and then helped haul the car – which had been over two minutes down on the #7 due to a slow zone speeding penalty – back into contention after completing a quadruple stint in the night.
When asked about the impact all six drivers had on the result, Leupen told Motorsport.com: “Without all six this wouldn’t have been possible. Considering the fact he’s a rookie, Fernando was exceptional. Especially at night.
“Seb and Kazuki are two guys you can count on as well, they’re great for the whole team. Unfortunately Anthony [Davidson] is no longer part of the line-up, but we have to thank him as well. It’s just a very good team.
“That’s what makes the sport so beautiful, that you’ve got someone who’s joining the team with a huge amount of talent who’s capable of things like that and integrates into the team. That’s what you dream of [as a team principal].”
Nakajima buries ghost of 2016
Nakajima, who was leading the 2016 race with two laps to go when his car lost power, said he was relieved to “finally” win the race.
He added Alonso had been “amazing in the night” before handing the car over to him.
“Finally! That’s the word, really,” said Nakajima. “We had a bad experience before, in ’14 and ’16, so our mentality was really to be focused until the chequered flag, and we somehow managed it.
“It was really a great effort from all the team, including the #7 guys. I think we both deserved to win the race, we were pushing each other, so it was great for the team.
“Seb did an amazing job, and Fernando in the night, he was really amazing, so I’m really happy to drive the car with the two of them.”
Buemi said the final moments of the race felt like “hours”.
“I can’t really describe it,” he said. “When you look at the past, 2016 on the last lap [when the car's power failed], and Kazuki was going to be in the car for the last few laps.
“[There was] lots of emotion, and when I saw the car crossing the line I could not believe it. It was so tough, I’ve never seen anything like that, the minutes were hours. It was so long.
“You keep remembering that on the last lap anything can happen, and until he crossed the line I couldn’t believe it.”
Additional reporting by Filip Cleeren and Glenn Freeman