A museum’s magic lies in its ability to transport us directly into the world of the objects that make up its collections. Marvellous artefacts vie for our attention as they each have their own tale to tell.
One of the treasures of the ACO’s collections can be found in the final space at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum, opposite the race-winning Bentleys from 1924 and 2003, next to the famous winner’s trophy. In front of a gigantic photo commemorating Toyota’s maiden triumph at Le Mans stand the firesuits worn by the winning trio of drivers. The shining armour of modern-day knights. One of the three suits clothed a sporting legend.
As the clock ticked down to the start of the 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans, the pressure cranked up on Toyota. Despite never having won in 32 previous attempts, the Japanese manufacturer was hot favourite for this 2018 vintage. To help break its duck, the team had recruited a two-time Formula One world champion – Fernando Alonso. Teamed with Sébastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, the Spaniard was to display incredible adaptability that bluffed engineers and teammates alike. His rapid understanding of the discipline translated to a fine maiden victory in the world’s greatest endurance race. “He was very, very strong,” remarked Toyota Gazoo Racing chief Pascal Vasselon. “He really deserved that win.” A victory that owed nothing to chance. The fastest team won. The motor racing “nomad” added the 24 Hours of Le Mans to his impressive list of titles and took a step nearer to his fulfilling his ultimate dream – the Triple Crown. Opinions diverge as to the jewels that adorn this crown. Le Mans and Indianapolis go without saying, but which is the third? The Monaco Grand Prix or the Formula One World Championship? What is for certain is that, as the Triple Crown is not officially recognised by the bodies governing international motorsport, its only real value is the passion that it generates. The same passion that has always fuelled Fernando Alonso since he caught the bug from his father, José Luis, who introduced him to go-karts at a tender age.
A BUDDING champion
The youngster soon revealed his burgeoning talent as he won his first races. He became Spanish karting champion in the Junior category, and then world champion in 1996. As go-karts gave way to single-seater racing cars, Fernando won the 1999 Euro Open by Nissan. The following year, he competed in the Formula 3000 World Championship and made his F1 début in an uncompetitive car. Flavio Briatore, the former director of the Renault F1 Team, spotted Alonso’s potential and took him under his wing. In 312 races, Alonso secured 22 pole positions, finished on the podium 97 times, including 32 times on the top step, and, above all, clinched two Formula One World Championship titles. But what could compare to being F1 world champion? “Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” Alonso replied. The Spaniard takes us back to an era when drivers switched freely between Indianapolis’s banking and the Mulsanne Straight, between the single seat of an F1 and the cockpit of a sport prototype. He proved what a great all-rounder he was when he led the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race before mechanical trouble put paid to his ambitions. “The 500 Miles, Grands Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans... I’ve love motor racing in all its forms and have done ever since I first held a steering wheel as a three-year-old,” he said following his latest Le Mans win with Toyota in 2019. With his fitness and motivation still intact, Alonso is more than ready to focus once again on a major championship. A return to F1 or to Endurance, or a fresh attempt at Indy 500, would not only delight the Spanish ace’s vast horde of fans, but the motorsport world at large.
At the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum, the ACO tells the epic tale of motoring in La Sarthe and the success of its legendary international race through 140 select vehicles. Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar, Ford, Porsche, Matra, Audi, Peugeot, Toyota... iconic models illustrating the greatest names of motorsport take visitors through almost a century of history at the world’s greatest endurance race. Temporary exhibitions add a topical note to the permanent displays which can be extended with a visit of the world-famous Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans.
BREAKING NEWS: THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS POSTPONED TO 19–20 SEPTEMBER 2020