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

LE MANS Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal, fresh from his 11th Roland Garros title last week, on Saturday waved the flag to start compatriot Fernando Alonso and the other 59 cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Double Formula One champion Alonso, driving a Toyota, has been the centre of attention since joining the World Endurance Championship.

Jacky Ickx, six-time winner at Le Mans, drove the lead car on the warm-up as race Grand Marshall saying he accepted the position "because it was the only way for me to be in front of him (Alonso) one day".

Alonso is aiming for the second leg of motor-racing's triple crown, having won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007. That would leave the Indy 500. 

Toyota occupied both places on the front row of the grid as they set off in pursuit of a first victory at Le Mans in their 19th attempt. They need to avoid the accidents and breakdowns which have halted them in recent years.

The Japanese constructor, the only major manufacturer racing in WEC this year, has entered two hybrid vehicles and faces competition in the premier category, Le Mans Prototype 1, from eight non-hybrids run by private teams as well as 20 cars in LMP2 and 30 more in two GTE categories 

In addition to Alonso, two other noted Formula One drivers are making their Le Man debuts: British former World champion Jenson Button is driving for SMP Racing and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya for United Autosports.

The forecast was for overcast but dry weather with temperatures between 20 and 22 degrees centigrade (68-72 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day dropping to 15C during the night.

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