News this week that Fernando Alonso will make his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in June gives the 36-year-old Spaniard another chance to continue his quest to win motorsport’s triple crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans.
The McLaren driver, who’s signed a deal to race in the majority of the World Endurance Championship with the factory Toyota squad in 2018, won in Monaco in 2006 and ’07 and came close to a maiden Indy 500 win last May. Another chance to tame the Brickyard may come in the near future, but for now, Alonso’s concentrating on adding a victory at La Sarthe to his CV.
During the 1950s and 1960s, it was commonplace for Grand Prix drivers to contest other high-profile events, particularly the World Sportscar Championship-qualifying Le Mans enduro. Since then, however, it’s been almost impossible for drivers to do both in the same season due to myriad reasons, including calendar clashes, commercial restrictions and, in many cases, downright disinterest.
We’ve studied the form book from Le Mans and picked out the five men who have most recently raced in F1 and won Le Mans in the same year – an exclusive club that Fernando Alonso will be aiming to join in June.
2015 – Nico Hulkenberg
The German generated huge headlines when he was signed by Porsche to contest Le Mans in one of its 919 Hybrid LMP1 prototypes for 2015. And, despite running rival Mercedes engines, his Force India team gave him its blessing as the race fell between the Canadian and Austrian GPs. Teamed with Briton Nick Tandy and Kiwi Earl Bamber, Hulkenberg guided his third-string, #19 919 to a famous victory after the sister cars hit trouble during the race.
1994 – Yannick Dalmas
Dalmas scrapes into this list because he contested two Grands Prix in the year he took his second Le Mans win, in the Dauer Porsche with Italian Mauro Baldi and US veteran Hurley Haywood. The Frenchman contested the Italian and Portuguese GPs in a Larrousse-Ford LH94 – his first appearance in F1 since a five-race campaign for AGS four years earlier. The Larrousse outings were Dalmas’s last in F1.
1991 – Bertrand Gachot
The 1991 season was a bittersweet one for Belgian Gachot. He’d taken a career-best fifth in the gorgeous Jordan 191 in the Canadian GP and then anchored the winning Mazda 787B at Le Mans, still the only success for a Japanese marque at La Sarthe. After the Hungarian GP in August, in which he took his only fastest lap, he was jailed following an assault on a taxi driver in London. And that let young rookie Michael Schumacher in at Jordan… After a brief period as a guest of Her Majesty, Gachot would be back in F1 and tackle Le Mans on four more occasions, but with no success.
1991 – Johnny Herbert
Briton Herbert was a fully-fledged Lotus Grand Prix driver in 1991, battling to improve the Judd V8-powered 102B’s competitiveness. He was also part of Mazda’s sportscar programme and tackled his second Le Mans in the rotary-powered 787B, an upgrade of the 787 whose electrics had failed in the 1990 race. A year on, the Mazda wailed its way to a famous victory, Herbert sharing with Gachot and German Volker Weidler, although a marathon final stint from Johnny led to the dehydrated 26-year-old heading for the medical centre rather than the podium ceremony.
1978 – Didier Pironi
No then-current Grand Prix drivers triumphed at Le Mans during the 1980s so you have to go back to 1978 to find the next most recent. Frenchman Didier Pironi was seven races into his first F1 season and he’d made a few people take notice thanks to his exploits in the Tyrrell 008. He was also part of the Renault-backed Alpine squad at Le Mans. He’d finished 19th in a Porsche 934 in 1976 and retired an Alpine A442 in ’77, but for 1978 he was back in the A442B with countryman Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and the pair took a five-lap victory in the 2-litre turbocharged V6 machine. He tackled the race once more, in 1980, finishing 16th in a BMW M1.
Not forgetting, of course, these aces who triumphed at La Sarthe (years in brackets) during a concurrent F1 campaign, however short.