Fernando Alonso only started driving a Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 car 19 months ago at the World Endurance Championship Rookie Test in Bahrain but since then he has enjoyed a rapid rise passing milestones along the way.

With Alonso sounding out his intention to find racing challenges away from Formula 1 towards the end of 2017, frustrated by his uncompetitive McLaren at the end of its Honda partnership, he struck a deal between McLaren and Toyota to allow him to race in the 2018-19 WEC season.

Initially Alonso would dovetail WEC with his F1 commitments and following a successful Rookie Test by January he began intensive preparations for endurance racing starting at the 2018 Daytona Rolex 24 with United Autosports where, surprisingly, future McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris would shine brighter than the two-time world champion.

The Spaniard completed an extensive testing programme with Toyota, learning from his Daytona experience, gearing up for his WEC race debut at the familiar surroundings of Spa-Francorchamps.

Partnering Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, who he knew previously through their respective careers in F1, Alonso was billed as ‘one of the guys’ working for the team rather than the superstar driver status he gained in single-seater racing.

Impressing instantly at Spa, Alonso set the fastest time in the opening practice session as his #8 crew charged to victory – his first win in any race for five years.

Le Mans 24 Hours debut and lighting up the times in the dark

With his confidence high and vital racing laps under his belt with Toyota, attention turned to the big one: his rookie Le Mans 24 Hours.

The fanfare surrounding the Spaniard almost completely overshadowed all pre-race activity with heighted interest from the media focusing on the one race he really wanted to win – the second leg of his Triple Crown.

Alonso had an ultra-experienced team to lean upon at Toyota, including teammates Buemi and Nakajima who have both been ever-present fixtures at Le Mans since 2012, with the Japanese team equally hungry for success having been painfully denied victory in recent years.

While trading the race lead against the sister #7 Toyota in the opening stages, Alonso’s car was dealt a blow with a 60-second time penalty after Buemi exceeded the speed limit during a caution zone.

With night falling at Le Mans, Alonso stepped into the #8 Toyota around 90 seconds behind the leading car driven by Jose Maria Lopez. But by the end of a quadruple stint Alonso effectively cancelled out the deficit to hand over to Nakajima who regained the lead 16 hours into the race.

The race was effectively ended as a contest during the final hour when Kamui Kobayashi missed a pit stop, forcing him to limp around another lap on electric energy alone, giving the #8 Toyota the chance to pull out a two-lap advantage to secure victory.

Alonso hailed the victory as one of the greatest in the history of Le Mans 24 Hours, no stranger to hyperbole, but his race-swinging stint at night, from a rookie no less, will live long in the memory.

Joy and then despair at Silverstone

Looking to maintain his perfect start to life in WEC, Alonso once again produced a pivotal drive at the Silverstone 6 Hours, overtaking Mike Conway in the other Toyota at the midway stage, as his car gradually edged away to victory.

But the win turned into disqualification hours after the race when both Toyotas were thrown out in post-race scrutineering for failing a skid block deflection test. With the pair of Toyotas disqualified from the race, Alonso’s #8 car duly held on to a healthy championship lead.

Storming to Sebring lap record

After consecutive races in Fuji and Shanghai playing second fiddle to the #7 Toyota, Alonso led his team’s resurgence with a stunning pole position lap at Sebring and in the process set a new lap record at the Sebring International Raceway. That kick-started his side of the garage’s charge to its first win since Le Mans in a hectic and rain-hit race.

Surviving the Snow at Spa

Returning to the scene of his maiden WEC triumph 12 months on, with the Super Season running two races at Spa and Le Mans, the series was greeted with very different conditions as snow arrived during the race which contributed to four safety car periods and two full-course yellows.

Alonso, again asked to bridge a time gap on the #7 Toyota, spun in the snow at Pouhon but got away with the off as it occurred just as a full-course yellow was called. After a brake senor failure hit the sister Toyota the trio of Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima eased to victory to close to within touching distance of the drivers’ world title as the rival car could only recover to sixth place by the finish.

Bowing out at Le Mans as history-maker

History beckons for Alonso once again at Le Mans, knowing his #8 Toyota needs a top-seven finish to guarantee the 2018-2019 WEC crown regardless of the result of the #7 car.

If he is to seal the title in style by reaching the top step of the podium on Sunday, he will also achieve a feat not seen for 80 years at Le Mans. With victory Alonso would become just the third driver in history with multiple Le Mans wins and a 100%-victory record at Circuit de la Sarthe following Woolf Barnato (1928, 1929 and 1930) and Jean-Pierre Wimille (1937, 1939).

While Alonso rates winning the WEC world title higher than a second Le Mans triumph, the Spaniard remains on cusp of leaving a legacy in the series unrivalled over the last decade.

"After winning Le Mans once, being world champion in endurance, it would be a nice thing to have, maybe even more than the two Le Mans wins," he said. "I think that is something that is not in our hands.

"If it was a six-hour race, maybe it was easier in a way to finish in the top seven, because we have the potential to finish in the top seven, but in Le Mans, it’s possible that you don’t finish the race, and if you don’t finish the race, it’s bye-bye to the championship.

"It’s a little bit out of our hands. Le Mans needs to choose who wins this year, and also in a way who wins the championship. Hopefully we did enough to deserve it."

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