DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Fernando Alonso drove his final laps in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the 22nd hour of the 24-hour race.
But his race ended in reality before the race even got halfway. After about 10 hours, 20 minutes, Alonso felt the brakes go, he blew through one of the turns and headed to pit road at Daytona International Speedway.
The United Autosports team spent about 40 minutes changing the master cylinder of the brakes. The team wound up returning to the garage a couple more times for brake and throttle issues, and Alonso stepped out of the car with it in 20th place, 50 laps down.
Fernando Alonso explains what it felt like when he lost the brakes during Rolex 24 At Daytona:
"You're scared a little bit, no doubt," Alonso said about losing the brakes. "It happened two times in the first corner - you're right there at 300-310 kilometers an hour then you hit the brakes and there's no brakes. ... At night, you don't see clearly the tire wall or the escape road, so there was even a little more of a scare.
"But that's the way it is. You try to get the car back to the garage."
Alonso at least got enough sports-car racing experience that he should feel more comfortable when he runs the 24 Hours of Le Mans, whether that is 2018 or 2019 or beyond.
"If and when I will be Le Mans, it will be the second time at least," Alonso said. "So I will be much more prepared [for] the practice, the race, driver changes, communication, driver preparation between the teams, how much rest you need to have.
"How much you need to be in the garage, how much focus you need to have in the race and how to get ready to jump in the car -- sometimes when you expect and sometimes when the engineer tells you time to go [was new]."
The two-time Formula 1 champion didn't have high hopes in winning the race. He had started 13th and worked his way as high as 10th over the first few hours. A tyre issue during the eighth hour dropped the team to 11th, three laps down. Alonso was in sixth, two laps down when he had the brake issue.
He was happy with the competitiveness of the United Autosports Ligier after the early portion of the race and between having to go to the garage for repairs.
"It is a positive feeling despite the issues and reliability," Alonso said. "It was a very nice experience the whole event. ... The transition from night to day that was one of my stints was very nice to be on the track at that time. "I really enjoyed the traffic management [and] the car itself. The nicest thing was how competitive we felt."
Because he qualified the car, Alonso had to be in the car for the start of the race. He said while the Indianapolis 500 grid seemed more crowded, it was still a little crazy for him Saturday prior to the event. He spent much of the prerace in his garage stall before coming to the car -- most drivers remain by the car after driver introductions -- just before drivers had to get in.
"The pit lane was very, very crowded so it was difficult to breathe," Alonso said. "You get in the car, get out of the car, interviews, press conference. [Now I'll] watch the television, work with the team get a small massage, get a little rest, I think that is when we will enter the fun [part]."
Alonso, whose co-drivers were McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris and United Autosports full-time driver Phil Hanson, was one of two current Formula One drivers in the race. Williams driver Lance Stroll co-drove a Jackie Chan DCR Oreca LMP2, which was running as high as fourth before it also suffered a myriad of mechanical issues and was running 15th heading into the final hour.
Stroll was able to shine early in the race during a brief shower in his first stint.
"I felt good in the car," Stroll said after his first stint. "I was really enjoying myself driving it in night, trying to stay focused when it was raining. It was very challenging and unexpected."
For Stroll, he enjoyed being able to push the car hard and not worry about the tires - or at least he thought. Many teams had tire issues throughout the race.
"In Formula One, tires don't allow us to push the whole race," Stroll said. "Here, we're constantly pushing even though there is traffic, we're always hustling the car and trying to get it to the end of the stage as quick as possible. ... This is just a very different kind of racing."