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F1’s Alonso Seeks To Win A Rolex In Daytona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 26 2017

Two-time Formula One driving champion Fernando Alonso will drive in the Rolex 24 next year.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fernando Alonso’s quest to challenge himself across the wide world of motorsports will see the Formula One superstar compete with United Autosports in the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, America’s most prestigious endurance sports car race.

A two-time Formula One World Driving Champion, Alonso will co-drive the team’s Ligier JS P217 alongside previously announced drivers Phil Hanson and Lando Norris in January’s 2018 season-opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. United Autosports will enter two Ligier JS P217s in the 56th running of the classic, with Will Owen and Paul di Resta previously announced as teammates to Alonso, Norris and Hanson.

“What an exciting and interesting project,” Alonso, 36, said in a team release. “Learning about a new racing category, adapting to a different car and to another style of driving and everything that goes with it, is a new challenge for me and I can’t wait to test myself again as a driver.

“The Daytona 24 Hours is the most iconic U.S. endurance race and one of the world’s greatest races. Everyone knows it. It’s not part of the Triple Crown but, as I have always said, my aim is to be a complete driver and this experience will help me in the preparation for any other endurance race I take part in.”

Alonso, who competes for Team McLaren in the F1A’s Formula One World Championship, stunned the motorsports world in April when he announced he would skip the famed Monaco Grand Prix to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500 in a one-off ride with Andretti Autosport. Already a winner at Monaco, Alonso is aiming to add the Indy 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans to his already stellar resume.

Alonso, who never had turned a lap on an oval prior to participating in the Rookie Orientation Program at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, completed an error-free performance during “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 28. Alonso qualified fifth and placed 24th after the twin-turbocharged Honda V6 engine in his papaya orange No. 29 McLaren fielded by team-owner Michael Andretti detonated after 179 of 200 laps. Alonso led his first oval-track race four times for 27 laps.

As was the case at Indy, the Rolex 24 at Daytona will mark the first time the Spaniard has raced a prototype sports car. The Rolex 24 is run on DIS’ 3.56-mile road-course that incorporates sections of the track’s high-banked, 2.5-mile oval that is home to NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500.

“Before I went to Indy, I had never driven on an oval; now I know what an oval is and how to deal with it,” said Alonso, who has an open invitation from Andretti for another ride at IMS. “I am excited to go back to race in America. After the great time I had during the Month of May for the Indy 500, I am looking forward to taking part in another legendary race that will bring back all those amazing sensations the U.S. fans gave me.

“Also, this race happens at a convenient time, in January, when our F1 season is off and we are mainly working on our physical preparation. It will be good to get behind a wheel again. Thanks to United Autosports for having offered me this opportunity and thanks to McLaren for supporting me in this new and exciting adventure.”

Alonso started his F1 career in 2001 racing for Minardi. In 2003 he moved to Renault, where he won both his F1 World Championship titles in 2005 and 2006. He then moved to McLaren for the 2007 season, before returning to Renault in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, Alonso drove for Scuderia Ferrari before returning to McLaren in 2015. Winning his second F1 title in 2006 made him the youngest double world champion at that time.

Alonso announced last week that he had signed a multi-year contract extension to remain in F1 with McLaren, which will switch from Honda’s power unit after three disappointing seasons to Renault beginning in 2018.

Alonso’s Indy 500 experience was organized by California native Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group and team co-owner/chairman of United Autosports.

“I’m thrilled we’ve managed to put a deal together to get Fernando in the car at Daytona,” Brown said. “Although he hasn’t driven an LMP2 car before I’m confident he will pick it up quickly. He’s one of the best drivers around so it will be great to have him as part of the team, not only for his speed, but for his experience and the invaluable knowledge he will pass onto Phil and Lando.”

Norris currently is a McLaren development driver who raced this year in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, winning the title with two races remaining. His championship win made Norris the youngest-ever European F3 champion.

Hanson, the reigning Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 Champion, already has experience in the Ligier JS P217, having raced in the European Le Mans Series and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2017. At 17-years-old, Phil became the youngest driver to finish in the top-10 at Le Mans.

“To say we are running Fernando Alonso at Daytona for the 24-hour race is pretty special for everybody here at United Autosports,” said Richard Dean, team co-owner/managing director. “Fernando is a quality act and will take to sports cars immediately. He has such a wealth of racing experience and this will no doubt be a huge benefit to the team and his young teammates throughout the week of the iconic Rolex Daytona 24 Hours. We have a very exciting lineup and I expect to be very competitive.”

United Autosports is a successful GT and sports car racing team based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Founded in 2009 by businessman Brown and racing driver Dean, United Autosports has competed in a number of different championships with a vast range of cars and drivers. The team is a double European Le Mans Series LMP3 champion, having won the title back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 26 2017
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