Le Mans: Toyota deny Fernando Alonso favouritism

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso is competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours race for the first time this weekend

Toyota have denied they are heading into the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend with a plan to ensure Fernando Alonso wins if possible.

Favourites Toyota have never won Le Mans and Alonso's fame means if his car wins the race, it will guarantee wider coverage than their other car.

But a spokesman said: "Our cars will race for victory with the target of achieving a Toyota one-two.

"Both cars start the race with an equal and fair chance of winning."

Two-time Formula 1 world champion Alonso shares his car at the classic endurance race in France with former Formula 1 drivers Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland and Japanese Kazuki Nakajima.

The other Toyota is shared by Briton Mike Conway, a former F1 test driver for Honda, ex-F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi from Japan and Argentine Jose Maria Lopez.

Alonso's car won the first race of the World Endurance Championship, of which Le Mans is the most high-profile race, in Belgium last month, after Toyota enforced team orders and told the other car to hold station behind.

Toyota are effectively without direct opposition at Le Mans this year because they are the only team racing in the leading LMP1 hybrid class, following the withdrawal at the end of last season of champions Porsche.

The other LMP1 cars, which are not hybrids and are run by privateer teams, have a series of handicaps laid out in the rules.

They are not allowed to lap faster the Toyotas, and if they do, they are called in to the pits for a drive-through penalty. Hybrids can do 11 laps between fuel stops and non-hybrids only 10 and hybrids have a minimum pit-stop time five seconds shorter than the non-hybrids.

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso's car won the first race of the World Endurance Championship

That effectively means a Toyota will probably win unless both cars hit reliability problems, which are common in such a demanding and gruelling race.

Toyota came closest to a win in 2016, when the car of Buemi, Nakajima and Briton Anthony Davidson was leading, only to break down on the final lap.

Their nearest rivals on pace are expected to be the Rebellion Racing team, which includes Swiss former winner Neel Jani.

Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 world champion, is also racing in the LMP1 class, with the Russian-backed SMP team, as is former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who is with the United Autosports team co-owned by Zak Brown, the chief executive officer of Alonso's McLaren F1 team.

Toyota's Nakajima took pole after the first Le Mans qualifying session on Wednesday, with the remaining two taking place on Thursday, at 18:00-20:00 and 21:00-23:00 BST.

The race starts at 14:00 BST on Saturday.

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