Paul di Resta walked away from a 135mph crash into a wall as Fernando Alonso steered Toyota to its first win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Bathgate’s Di Resta, making his debut in the world’s most famous endurance race on the 8.46-mile La Sarthe circuit, had impressed with his pace and had moved his United Autosports LMP2 car to within sight of a podium finish.
But approaching at the start of the 20th hour of the race, the 32-year-old Scot had a major let-off when his Ligier JS P217 went straight on at the iconic Porsche Curves, missed the tyre wall and speared head-on into a concrete wall.
The impact severely damaged the front-left of the car, and caused massive secondary damage down the left-hand side and rear of the car as it pivoted back into the wall after the initial contact.
The car then slewed across the tracks, coming to a halt on the grass. After making radio contact with his United Autosports crew, Di Resta then emerged from the car unaided. The Scot was taken to the medical centre as a precaution, but released after being given the all-clear.
The race was won by double Formula 1 World champion Alonso, and team-mates Sebastian Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, who led home a Toyota 1-2. It’s the first time the Japanese car giant has won the Le Mans 24-Hours and follows two years of heartbreak at the circuit. Alonso’s win also completed the second leg of motorsport’s iconic Triple Crown: the F1 Monaco Grand Prix, Indy500 and Le Mans. All that remains now for Alonso is to win the Indy500, with the likelihood being he’ll race a full year in IndyCar next season.
Di Resta and his team-mates – England’s Phil Hanson and Portuguese Felipe Albuquerque – had been forced to push hard throughout the race after they lost two laps in the first hour when the car pitted to have a missing GPS sensor fitted. Understandably, it was a sheepish Di Resta who spoke after returning to the team’s garage. “First, I’ve got to make a massive apology to the team,” the ex-F1 racer said. “They busted their asses right through the night to try to make up the time we dropped at the beginning of the race.
“But we were fighting back, and a podium looked a distinct possibility. To do that though we were on the edge all the way, but I’ve got to apologise for making a costly error.”
“I’m really disappointed,” added Di Resta, who admitted he was going to be sore and bruised for a few days, but acknowledged the strength of the United Autosports car for protecting him. “A podium was on. We had to be aggressive. It’s going to take a few days to get over, because it hurts when you let people down.”