Patrick Dempsey back for second start at Le Mans

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Patrick Dempsey is back at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. That sentence is enough to make the entire French countryside swoon.

The actor’s racing career has really taken off in the last five years since his initial appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2009. He raced a GT2-class Ferrari F430 to a ninth-place finish with co-drivers Joe Foster and Don Kitch Jr., although Kitch took ill due mid-race which left Dempsey and Foster to bring home the car on their own for the last 12-plus hours.

Now, Dempsey’s back with his own team for the first time. The Dempsey Del Piero Racing squad, which competes full time in the American Le Mans Series in a GTC-class Porsche GT3 Cup, has partnered with the German Proton Competition team to run a 2012-spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the GTE Am class at Le Mans.

Dempsey, Foster and Porsche’s lone American factory driver, Patrick Long, will race the No. 77 Porsche.

For Dempsey, having had the experience of driving here once before, he’s better prepared for the entirety of the week this year.

“You really have to pace yourself and be strong mentally because you have to really be careful in how much energy you release,” he said Tuesday in a media teleconference. “So there was something about that moment and that challenge that we wanted to come back and see if we could go to the next step.”

Dempsey and Foster had the opportunity to commit to Porsche after their prior relationship with Mazda ended at the end of 2012. With a documentary being filmed about Dempsey, the driver and Dempsey Del Piero, the team, going to Le Mans, they needed a car for this year’s race. For Dempsey, the opportunity to drive one of the legendary sports car marquees is something he couldn’t pass up.

“My first car was a 1963 356 Porsche Convertible that I still have, so I’ve always had a fond appreciation,” he said. “I just love the brand and what it represents, and now to be able to represent Porsche here at Le Mans in the RSR is such a tremendous honor. It’s forced me to step up my game because what the brand represents and what the car represents, it’s won more races than anybody else here.”

Winning is achievable for the team. Dempsey’s partnered with Italian soccer star Alessandro Del Piero in the team, and in the 14-car GTE Am class, the car is one of only two with a Porsche factory driver on board. The class regulations allow for only one pro driver of three in the car.

Long has two Le Mans class wins, with his presence also helping to spur the team forward.

“I got drafted in pretty late, and jumped in the car, found a good baseline,” Long said. “The team that we have linked up with in partnership is Proton-Felbermayr, and these guys really know what they’re doing.

“Once Patrick  and Joe got in the car and picked up the RSR  really quickly, I started to feel really positive about  our chances, and that was sort of capped off by the test that we just had two weeks ago.”

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.