Fernando Alonso strung together a series of fast laps through the night to set up his Toyota to retake the lead on his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut just after dawn on Sunday.
The Spaniard put the Toyota No. 8 in position for Japanese co-driver Kazuki Nakajima to overtake stablemates Toyota No. 7, driven by Kamui Kobayashi, at 06.20 local time (08.20 UAE time).
When Alonso took his second turn at the wheel at 1.30 (3.30 UAE time), the car was 2min 15sec behind No.7 after the car’s third driver, Swiss Sebastien Buemi, had picked up a one-minute “stop and go” penalty for speeding in a temporary slow zone.
When Alonso handed over to Nakajima two and a half hours later, the two-time Formula One world champion had closed the gap to 45 seconds to claim the lead during his first stint late on Saturday afternoon.
Alonso, who is bidding to complete the second part of motor racing’s Triple Crown, climbed out of his car smiling and scarcely showing signs of fatigue.
“I felt good at night. I was in the zone and I pushed to catch up,” said the 36-year-old, who has already won the F1 Monaco Grand Prix and also still needs the Indy 500 for the Triple Crown.
“Some of the work is done, but it’s still a long race.”
The leader in LMP2, after 19 hours, was the G-Drive Racing car of Frenchmen Jean-Eric Vergne and Andrea Pizzitola and Russian Roman Rusinov, lying fifth overall, 14 laps behind Alonso’s Toyota.