Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso is preparing to make his presence felt in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races for this year.
He turned in a few laps in the United Autosports No. 23 Ligier LMP2 at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida in the first weekend of the year.
Racing reporters observed Alonso was clearly absorbing details of the busy, new setting, and talking up the challenge he looks forward to in racing in the January27-28 twice-around-the-clock IMSA race at Daytona.
“I did unfortunately a short time, only three laps that morning, but enough to have a feeling in the car,’’ Alonso shared with a smile. “I don’t know the speedway as well, the corners with the high banking were special.”
“You feel the compression in the body, you feel the visibility change because when in a normal car on the circuit, your view in the car is longer ahead. When you are in the corner with banking you see only the next 200 meters of the track. But it was good fun, a good feeling after missing track time,” he said.
“So far, so good,’’ Alonso added.
The Spaniard made an impressive debut at the Indianapolis 500 in May last year by leading 27 laps early but retiring with 21 laps remaining because of an engine problem. Despite not finishing in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, Alonso became a fan favorite in the United States. And his willingness to compete in yet another completely new form of racing in the Rolex 24 has only raised the level of intrigue and respect toward him.
“I don’t remember a time in my tenure in sports car racing which goes back a long time that we’ve had an active F1 driver on the grid, and to have an active F1 driver of Alonso’s credentials is nothing short of remarkable,” said IMSA president Scott Atherton between testing sessions at the Roar Before the 24, the testing event for the first WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the season.
“It [Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 race] created a groundswell of interest in the United States and overseas. It will be significant and certainly with what this race represents and uniqueness of him competing in a multi-class race over 24 hours. The dynamics of that. We all saw remarkable embrace of his ability to compete in highest level at the Indy 500 and I think we will see the same here,’’ Atherton said.
Alonso, who in 2005 was the youngest world champion in F1 history (age 24 years, 58 days), was as impressed with the atmosphere in Daytona Beach last week as with what awaits him in the world-renowned race.
“Two days here, but you smell motor racing here,’’ Alonso said. “That’s a good feeling for any driver. The speedway is amazing. The size of everything is just huge.”