LE MANS, France (AP) — Tennis great Rafael Nadal played the role of official starter on Saturday to get the 86th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans classic endurance race underway amid light rain.
Former Formula One champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button are among 180 drivers in the crews of three.
Alonso, racing for Toyota, is competing in his first Le Mans as he bids to match British driver Graham Hill’s feat of completing motorsport’s unofficial Triple Crown, including wins at the Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500.
Hill, a two-time Formula One champion like Alonso, managed the feat when he won at Le Mans in 1972.
Button, who is racing for SMP, is also making his debut in Le Mans in the highest category, LMP1.
Alonso’s hybrid car started from pole after teammate Kazuki Nakajima qualified fastest. Their crew is completed by Sebastien Buemi. The other Toyota is crewed by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, and one of the two cars is favored to win.
The Toyotas quickly settled into a fight for the lead as the track was declared wet. Buemi set the early pace and was leading by 19.978 seconds after completing 17 laps of the circuit in the first hour.
Three-time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer had to bring his Rebellion car back after losing the nose in a collision at the start.
See Will Power ‘in the flesh’ as he’ll appear on Indy 500-winning Borg-Warner Trophy
Will Power has had thousands of photos taken of him during his racing career by media, fans, family and friends.
But Power has never undergone the type of photos – and the sitting/modeling he took part in, posing for the image of him that will adorn the Borg-Warner Trophy, symbolic of Power’s win in this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Power on Thursday was at the Tryon, North Carolina studio of noted artist and sculptor William Behrends to complete the finishing touches on the clay model of his face and head.
From there, Behrends will create a miniature version of Power’s likeness to be placed on the Borg-Warner Trophy, which is set to be unveiled December 5 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
“It’s actually really cool to come in the first time and see your face there,” Power told MotorSportsTalk. “All the experiences that goes with the Indy 500 are just all great, and it’s amazing I’m sitting there getting my face sculpted to go on the Borg Warner.”
It’s a big day for @12willpower! We’re in Tryon, N.C. to begin sculpting his face for the @borgwarner trophy after his big #INDY500 win earlier this year. 🏆
“Oh, he’s a wonderful subject, just a very affable, easy-going guy,” Behrends said. “He was very good company during the sittings.
“These sittings I think, are rather difficult for the subject just because he’s just sitting there. I’m working, but the subject has to sit there for long periods of time.
“But Will’s very, very cooperative and very easy-going and we had some very nice conversations.”
Power will be the 29th image that Behrends has created for the Borg-Warner Trophy, dating back to his first effort in 1990 with Arie Luyendyk.
“It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s that many years,” Behrends said. “This is the only thing I do that I’ve done more than once. All of my pieces are one-of-a-kind. But it becomes a regular thing on my calendar of the Fall.”
Behrends explained how the process has worked for nearly the last three decades. It starts with taking photos the day after the Indy 500 to rough drafting and sculpting the model, to having the winning driver come to his studio to do some final touches (as Power did Thursday), and then taking the completed clay model and replicating it to be placed on the trophy.
“There’s really three different parts of the process for my work. I’ll spend 3-4 days here, and then two weeks later, I’ll spend a couple more days, so it’s broken up. I guess if I stacked it all together, it’d be about 2-3 (full-time) weeks’ work of different types.”
After Thursday, seeing the finished product that will eventually be placed on the trophy, Power now has yet another bit of inspiration and motivation to win the Indy 500 again.
“You understand everything that goes into winning that race,” Power said. “(To be on the trophy) will be a lot of great satisfaction and gives you a lot of motivation because you want to go through this process again because it’s such a cool process.”
Here are some more tweets from Thursday’s session at Behrends’ studio for Power:
William Behrends’ studio is like a museum. The artistic process is incredible.