While it’s unclear just how competitive the LMP2 cars will be in the IMSA WeatherTech Prototype class after the Action Express, Spirit of Daytona and Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi V.Rs with the car’s newly homologated 5.5-litre V8 engine topped the times in every session at the Roar test, United Autosport and its star debutant are still pushing hard.
Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, who will drive with Phil Hanson and Lando Norris in the #23 United Ligier JS P217 had a poised and relaxed debut sportscar weekend in the public eye.
Last weekend’s Roar Before The Rolex 24 Hours saw the Spaniard experience his first full event with the Anglo-American sportscar team, as he prepares for his first twice-around-the-clock race later this month, and clocked in 64 laps of the Daytona International Speedway.
“I think it was a positive weekend,” he said after the final session of the weekend yesterday. “I think obviously it’s nice to have my first time in the car and experience the circuit for the first time. There are small things you keep learning lap after lap, the sessions are short, you share the car with your teammates and even with the laps we had that’s better than nothing.”
While 64 laps may sound like a lot, over three days, it isn’t, especially when driving an unfamiliar car. Clearly aware he’d need to share the wheel with Hanson and Norris, Alonso was says he was still surprised at just how little track time he got in the JS P217 during the Roar.
Eager to earn his stripes in a sports prototype Alonso said the amount he had to sacrifice behind the wheel came as a shock
“I think the biggest surprise was the little time in the car that you spent,” he explained. “The sessions were not long and you share the car, you lose time in driver changes and set up changes. You do very few laps, but that’s part of the game and in the 24 Hours we will get enough laps in!”
The spirit and atmosphere that I liked in IndyCar is the same here
Alonso’s best time was a 1:37.515, which put him fastest of United Autosports’ six drivers, which let’s not forget, includes ex-F1 driver Paul Di Resta and young hot-shoe Lando Norris. It also put him 21st of the 66 drivers who took part and set times and under two seconds off Felipe Nasr’s 1:35.806 in the Whelen Engineering Cadillac, the fastest time of the weekend.
“I feel more prepared for the race now for sure,” he said, when asked how much the Roar helped his confidence. “It was a good weekend to work with the guys, the team, my teammates and enter in this mood of sharing everything and making compromises. That was the main priority and it’s what we achieved.”
While arguably the biggest obstacle for Alonso in the Rolex 24 Hours will be adapting to spending far more time in a car in one go over the course of the race, getting used to driving at night and through slower GT traffic is also something he must master.
The night session on Saturday went well, his experience driving under floodlights in F1 coming in handy, but he says there’s still some adapting to do when managing traffic.
“The night running was good, it was not a big difference to the day time. In F1 we have night races in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and the circuit is quite well illuminated here. It’s not like other endurance circuits, I found no issues.
“Same with the traffic, which I was a little bit afraid of, there’s always risks overtaking cars, especially when they are battling people, but everyone has to deal with the same thing, we should be ready for it in the race.”
During his Indy 500 experience, Alonso praised the paddock atmosphere for its more open attitude when it comes to fan interaction. In IMSA (and sportscars as a whole let’s not forget), that’s no different.
As well as showing off his talents and gunning for a result in America’s premier long-distance race, Alonso says he relished the chance to connect with fans during the Roar and is looking forward to race week in Florida.
“They (the US fans) were great, it was a very nice welcome,” he concluded. “There’s a lot of IndyCar fans here bringing the replicas to sign, and a lot of #29 shirts. It was good to experience it once more.
“I’m looking forward to the race, because there will be even more access to fans in pit lane and the garage. The spirit and atmosphere that I liked in IndyCar is the same here.”
Photos courtesy of United Autosports