Alonso's expectations high in return to Daytona

With a victory at Spa-Francorchamps last year, Alonso shares the lead in the 2018-19 World Endurance Championship standings.

File Photo: Alonso at the unveiling of 2019 North American International Auto Show.   -  AFP

Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso takes a second shot at the 24 Hours of Daytona on Saturday, aiming to add the iconic US endurance race to his list of achievements.

Last year, Daytona gave the Spanish star his first taste of endurance racing. Driving a Ligier-Gibson LMP2 for United Autosports, he suffered a series of mechanical problems on the way to a 13th-place finish in the Prototype class -- 38th overall.

Months later, he would go on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Japesese driver Kazuki Nakajima and former F1 driver Sebastien Buemi, giving Toyota their first victory in the renowned event.

With a victory at Spa-Francorchamps last year, Alonso shares the lead in the 2018-19 World Endurance Championship standings, and says he returns to Daytona -- this year driving a Cadillac DPi-V.R. for Wayne Taylor Racing -- with a wealth of endurance knowledge he was lacking last year.

“It's not my first time in an endurance race,” Alonso said. “Now I know the traffic, I know the night, I know the circuit as well.

“Wayne Taylor Racing's performance over the last several years, being on the podium almost all of the time, winning the race two years ago, we know that we can be very competitive.

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“I definitely feel like I'm in a much better position this year compared to last year,” he added. “The target this year is definitely to be more competitive on the track.”

Alonso's No. 10 car will start from sixth place on the grid Saturday at 2:35 pm (1935 GMT) and has the makings of a contender.

Fernando Alonso announced his retirement from Formula One after 17 years from making his debut.   -  AFP

 

Two of his co-drivers, American Jordan Taylor and the Netherlands' Renger van der Zande, are regulars in the IMSA SportsCar Championship and Japan's Kamui Kobayashi, another Formula One alum, was a WEC winner at Fuji in October.

Alonso is hoping a solid showing in Daytona will be a springboard to an ambitious 2019 campaign.

After Daytona, he will compete, with Toyota, in the 1,000 miles of Sebring on March 15 and the 6 Hours of Spa on May 4, before finding himself back in a single-seater trying to conquer the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

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A victory in America's greatest race would see him become just the second driver, after Britain's Graham Hill, to win the “Triple Crown” of the Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Indy 500.

He will cap the season at Le Mans with Toyota on June 15-16, the last event of the 2018-19 WEC season.

Whether that will mark his farewell to endurance racing remains to be seen.

“Everything will depend on what happens in the WEC Championship and the Indianapolis 500. There may be new challenges,” said Alonso, adding that it was 50-50 whether he would continue in WEC with Toyota for 2019-20.