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Alonso completes first official practice laps at Le Mans

Fernando Alonso said he was hoping for some wet weather this week, as he finally got his eagerly awaited 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours campaign underway. He turned his first laps in the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 car in official practice on Wednesday afternoon.

Having taken part in the test day last week, Alonso took to the circuit an hour into the four-hour practice for an initial 30 minute acclimatisation run. His best lap during the brief outing was 3:21.437s.

The sister #7 car driven by Mike Conway was the fastest runner in the opening spell, almost three quarters of a second quicker.

The prototype cars were steadily going about their business and keeping out of trouble at this early stage, However there were a number of incidents requiring local yellows and slow zones, including the removal of Harry Tincknell’s #67 Ford after a mishap at Mulsanne left him in the tyre barriers.

The first two-hour qualifying session was scheduled for 10pm local time this evening, with two more set for Thursday. However the forecast for tomorrow is not promising, and tonight’s running might be everyone’s best opportunity to go for pole position.

Certainly Alonso is hoping that bad weather might bring good fortune as far as he’s concerned.

  • Alonso mixes with the locals at Le Mans

“We’ll see if we can put in a lap today just in case tomorrow it rains. On Thursday there is the risk of rain, so we should put together a lap today.

“We should be ready. I would like it if it rained tomorrow in qualifying,” he said. “This way, if it rains in the race, at least you get some laps before in practice or qualifying.

“If it rains tomorrow, great, to have the experience,” he continued. “If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, and rains in the race, we will manage I’m sure.”

Just as he was last year when he entered his first Indianapolis 500, Alonso is proving the centre of attraction at Le Mans. But he insists that he’s lapping up the experience.

“I don’t feel pressure, I’m just curious to see.

“I think the mentality and approach to the race is very clear from our side. We’re all focused and concentrated. We are aware of the zero risk and zero mistakes that we have to put on our side, the driver’s side.

“As I said, preparation is 100 [per cent]. We cannot be better prepared. It’s just now to execute it,” he said. “We will see. I think we will be ready, and we will be OK. In dry or wet, I’m not too worried.”

While Alonso is the only current Formula 1 driver in action at Le Mans this year, there are plenty of former Grand Prix faces on pit lane. Jenson Button, Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna, Felipe Nasr, Pastor Maldonado, Vitaly Petrov, Giedo van der Garde and Juan Pablo Montoya are all taking part in this year’s event.

  • Button happy after venturing into ‘another world’ at Le Mans

“It’s really awesome for the fans to get close to the cars,” Button told RACER magazine after arriving at the Circuit de la Sarthe in time for scrutineering.

Button was only seventh fastest in the opening hour of practice, as the team addressed some balance and handling issues on the #11 SMP Racing BR1-AER that hadn’t been present on the test day.

“Mulsanne definitely is the toughest part,” he said. “The first part of the circuit is very fast, not that tough to learn, but Mulsanne just draws you in.

“It’s huge braking at the end of the straight. But just as you think you’ve done enough and release your brakes you feel like you are definitely going to run way too far on and end up in the gravel. That took awhile to get the hang of.

“Then there’s the Porsche Curves. They’re very quick but I think they will be relatively straightforward once you have confidence in the car underneath you.”

While Button has had some time off, Alonso was pounding round the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Sunday. He’s is not the only driver to find it a tight turnaround after have been racing in Canada at the weekend.

Sam Bird, Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne, Jose Maria Lopez and Andre Lotterer have all hot-footed it from the ABB Formula E Zurich ePrix.

And Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon all had long haul flights from the US where they were competing in this weekend’s IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

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