Alonso won on his WEC debut, the Six Hours of Spa in Belgium. File photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

London - Fernando Alonso can win this month's Le Mans 24 Hours sports-car race on his debut with Toyota but the double Formula One world champion could still be in the wrong car.

Five-times Le Mans winner Derek Bell, 76, one of the greats of endurance racing and a double sports-car world champion, said Le Mans was a race that chose its winners.

"He should win, and Toyota should win, but we've had that many times before," Bell said at a Motorsport Hall of Fame event. "I drove for Renault when we led by 16 laps at eight o'clock in the morning and by quarter to nine we were out.

"That's racing and it's tough as heck. But Toyota has put everything into it and I just pray and hope they haven't got something silly that goes wrong."

Team effort

Alonso is the big name at the Sarthe circuit in 2018, even if Le Mans is always a team effort, and is combining a full Formula One season for McLaren with the World Endurance Championship for Toyota. He wants to become only the second man, after the late Graham Hill, to complete the 'Triple Crown of Motorsport' by winning Le Mans, the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One championship/Monaco Grand Prix.

He led at Indianapolis in 2017 before retiring with an engine failure, won on his WEC debut, the Six Hours of Spa in Belgium, in a car shared with Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi, and was fastest in last Sunday's official Le Mans testing.

Bell was not at all surprised.

"He should be, shouldn't he?" he said. "He's good. There's no doubt about it. The good ones always go quick - I didn't expect anything different. Without a doubt, the biggest publicity is Alonso being at Le Mans. So if they can get him in the car and give him the works just to get the quickest lap, they will do it."

Toyota is the only major manufacturer entered in the endurance classic, following the departure of champion Porsche, and is bidding to become only the second Japanese entry to win after Mazda in 1991. The team secured pole position with a record fastest lap in 2017 but had its hopes dashed in an agonising half hour after midnight when its top two cars retired.

Bell jokingly suggested Toyota might have to "retire rapidly back to Japan and never appear again" if it failed again but racing was a cruel sport.

'It's in the lap of the gods'

"I wish them all the very best," said the man who took four of his Le Mans wins with Porsche. "But they've got to win, and they probably will. But they might not. Don't forget, it's 5000 plus kilometres, there's all the traffic out there, there's the weather conditions, there's driver ability and traffic in the dark and rain which he hasn't totally experienced to any great degree. And then you get out there and Lady Luck comes in and knocks you about.

"It's Toyota's time to win but I don't envy them that. They'll be sitting on their nerves the whole time."

If all goes well, and Alonso stands on the top of the podium with his team-mates, Bell said he would be a deserving winner.

"The guy is one of the greatest drivers we've seen in many, many years," he said. "The publicity he's bringing for Le Mans is magnificent. The reason the people will go this year is to see Le Mans, because it's Le Mans, but a hell of a lot will go just to see how well Alonso goes."