Fernando Alonso says his first race win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix felt "fantastic", as he shared victory in the FIA World Endurance Championship opener at Spa with Toyota teammates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.
Alonso battled with the sister #7 Toyota in the closing hour of the race, but had enough in hand to score victory on his series debut by 1.4s.
“It was a nice debut, definitely,” said Alonso. “In the race I think we led basically all the laps. We had three safety cars with regroup, so we lost the advantage we had, but we just kept the position until the last lap.
“Fantastic debut, first endurance race in the world championship, amazing job by the team, 1-2 in qualifying and 1-2 in the race. Kazuki, and Sebastien in the start, made my life a little bit easier.”
When asked about what it was like to end his win drought he quipped: “I won in go-karts a couple of races! In an FIA World Championship, in F1 it was a couple of years ago in Spain, with Ferrari still.
“I was saying to the guys, this is so nice to feel the podium, I will be here all night long. Pick me up in the morning, I will try and sleep here!”
Buemi drove the first stints of the race before handing over to Alonso on lap 34. He then drove until lap 73, when he relayed to Nakajima – who had an issue with his seatbelts and was forced to make an extra pitstop, and then spun at La Source soon after.
“It was good,” Alonso said of his first stint. “It was a little bit of a mixed, with the traffic and the car balance, we struggled a little bit with oversteer, but I think it was a good first experience.”
Alonso then took over on lap 131 for the final two stints until the end.
Meanwhile, the sister #7 Toyota – driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez – had been forced to start a lap behind the field after the wrong fuel-flow meter had been fitted to the car.
It managed to regain its lost lap by charging through the field, and then a safety car in the fifth hour put Conway within 8s of Alonso’s car.
Conway twice closed right up to Alonso, but fell away in the closing laps – despite Alonso being instructed to short-shift near the end as his gearbox temperatures were rising.
“It was tricky, performance-wise, we took quite a safe approach to the race, knowing that we were in a good advantage, but with the safety cars probably that advantage went,” Alonso added.
“Our safe approach wasn’t the quickest and we had to fight until the end. But the team is amazing. I think we executed the race to perfection.
"We have the 1-2 so it’s good for the team after a long winter. Everyone thinks it’s easy to do a 1-2, but then you have to deliver.”