DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Fernando Alonso hasn’t been surprised by much on the track as he prepares for his first sports car endurance race this weekend in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. But the enormity of the world-class motorsports stadium and the passion of the fans have left an impression on the two-time Formula One world champion.
“It still surprises me, the venue, the speedway, every morning when I come here,” he said. “You pass around the grandstand from the outside and it’s just the size of everything is huge.”
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Alonso participated in the three-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test session in the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LMP2, his first experience at Daytona. And he has seen a major transformation in the facility since that early January weekend.
“And now in the race weekend, compared to the test, you enter the circuit and the infield is full of RVs, full of fans. They are preparing their BBQ for tomorrow,” Alonso observed on the Friday entering the race. “The passion for the motorsport … the people are ready to enjoy the event … it’s not only a race. They are ready to spend 24 hours here enjoying and watching cars.”
After tallying 32 wins in Formula One, Alonso was in position to contend for the win at the Indianapolis 500 last year, another notable “one-off” race entry for the Spaniard. But he observes that preparation for the 24-hour endurance race this weekend varies greatly from what he went through for the 200-lap spectacle that took just over three hours to run last year.
For Indianapolis, he noted that race preparation was precise and, “I think we had the race in our minds, in our heads, before entering the start.”
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However, a 24-hour race is much more unpredictable, and Alonso is well aware that it will require an “open-minded philosophy and … flexible strategy.”
“I think it’s impossible to plan in advance and it’s impossible to have an idea of how it will go,” he said.