LE CASTELLET, France -- Fernando Alonso says his victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours rates higher than anyone else's at the prestigious event since it started in 1923.
Alonso earned victory with Toyota teammates Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi last weekend. A key factor in the win was Alonso's epic stint -- his second of three -- in the early hours of Sunday morning, when the Spaniard significantly reduced the lead of the other Toyota car when the circuit was full of traffic at its darkest point.
The withdrawal of Audi and Porsche in recent years meant Toyota had no significant competition for the outright victory, although finishing the famous Le Mans endurance race is an achievement in itself -- especially for a team which had failed to win on 18 previous attempts. Alonso believes his will hold a special place in history.
When asked ahead of this weekend's French Grand Prix, where he returns to F1 duty with McLaren, if his win was devalued by the lack of opposition, Alonso replied: "Last year were only four cars, this year there were 10."
The two-time world champion was referring to Le Mans' entire premier LMP1 class. There were four cars in with a legitimate shot of winning in 2017 -- all of which were LMP1-Hybrid cars, with two each for Toyota and Porsche. This year the entire LMP1 field consisted of ten cars, but only two of them (the Toyotas) were LMP1-Hybrids
He continued: "It was a great challenge. I put this victory in a higher level than any other victory in Le Mans."
It contradicted what Alonso had said at the start of the Paul Ricard press conference.
"Obviously it has been a long time dream for me to be there and to experience Le Mans. It's great to have the first opportunity and be in a competitive team as Toyota, to dominate free practice, qualifying and the race.
"It was a competition between the two of our cars in the garage. In the end we got a little bit more lucky and a little bit more better set up. It feels great, and now back to F1, triple race now in three weekends, and quite busy between Monaco, Canada and Le Mans, and now these three."
Alonso's victory moved him a step closer to his goal of completing motor racing's triple crown -- he now only needs to add the Indy 500 to his wins at Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix. There is mounting speculation the Spaniard will not remain in F1 for 2019 and instead switch to a full season of IndyCar to better prepare for an assault on the famous oval race. That coincides with the fact McLaren is currently considering whether to join the IndyCar grid next season.
When asked about the possibility of doing Indy 500 alongside Formula One next year, he said: "I didn't think too much yet about this. As I said last year when I entered the Indy 500, that was a very attractive target to achieve the triple crown and be a little bit more complete driver, not only drive Formula 1 cars.
"With the Le Mans victory, it puts me a little bit closer to that target. I will think and I will see what I do next year."