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Primer for the 90th Anniversary 24 Hours of Le Mans

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This weekend marks the 90th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the most prestigious races worldwide. Here’s a few tidbits on what has made it what it is, and what to expect for this year’s running on June 22-23. A further resource guide with race times, schedules and a spotters guide, can be found on U.S. race broadcaster SPEED’s website.

THE HISTORY

Recently, it’s been about one name: Audi. The four rings showed up at Le Mans in this current iteration in 1999, and a year later with the R8, scored its first win. Since 2000, only in 2003 (Bentley) and 2009 (Peugeot), has Audi not tasted overall spoils. A year ago, its win with the R18 e-tron quattro was the first for a hybrid at Le Mans – this after they were the first diesel to win, as well (2006, R10 TDI).

It’s always been a technological proving ground. It’s been home to some of the greatest cars winning races, and some of the greatest drivers showcasing their worth. Tom Kristensen, “Mr. Le Mans,” leads all-time with eight wins. An American hasn’t won the race overall since 1996 (Davy Jones), but that has hardly diminished its stature.

Audi is five back of Porsche for most overall victories (it trails 16-11), but ahead of other manufacturers such as Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley, Alfa Romeo and Ford.  Arguably one of the most famous Le Mans wins was that of A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney in the Ford GT in 1967.

THE RACE

No longer merely a test of survival, Le Mans is a 24-hour sprint. Spend any substantial amount of time in the garage and you are pretty much toast when it comes to potential for class victory, or even a podium finish.

The 8.459-mile long Circuit de la Sarthe is known primarily for the Mulsanne Straight, and rewards cars that maximize the low downforce setup. There are very few slow corners on the track, other than Indianapolis (left-hander) and the following right-hander, Arnage.

THE CLASSES

56 cars compete in four classes. Here’s a primer on them below:

LMP1 (8 cars): The top class, comprised of factory prototype efforts from Audi and Toyota, two Rebellion Racing Lola Toyotas, and a single HPD ARX-03a from Strakka Racing. Bronze-rated drivers (the lowest-rated) are not allowed in class.

LMP2 (22 cars): Privateer, cost-capped second prototype class has Oreca, Zytek, Morgan, Lola, Lotus and HPD chassis, with engines provided by Nissan, HPD and Judd. Requires at least one Silver or Bronze-rated driver (the two lowest rated) and can have two pros.

GTE PRO (12 cars): Open, 2013-spec GT cars close to production from Ferrari, Corvette, Aston Martin, SRT and Porsche. Open driver lineup available although like in LMP1, only one team has a Silver-rated driver in its car.

GTE AM (14 cars): The same manufacturers as compete in GTE Pro, but privateer teams with 2012-spec cars. Only one pro driver (Platinum or Gold-rated) is allowed in the car, which makes this the class with the highest number of gentlemen drivers.

THE CONTENDERS

LMP1: As ever, it’s Audi’s to lose. Defending champions Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler seek their third consecutive win in the race. Toyota received a break from race organizers, the ACO, for an extra three liters of fuel ahead of this race. But whether Toyota’s TS030 Hybrid can claw back the performance gains to Audi remains to be seen.

LMP2: Roughly half of the 22 cars in class stand a serious chance at winning. OAK Racing (No. 24, 35 Morgan Nissans) and Greaves Motorsport (No. 41, 42 Zytek Nissans) each have two possible winners. Other cars to watch including G-Drive’s No. 26 Oreca Nissan, Level 5’s No. 33 HPD, JOTA Sport’s No. 38 Zytek Nissan, and the Oreca Nissans from Murphy Prototypes (No. 48) and Pecom Racing (No. 49). I’d expect the winner from that batch of 10.

GTE PRO: The pair of AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italias are probably the best all-around package in class and enters as defending race winner. But Aston Martin is primed to score a win with one of its three Vantages, and Corvette also stands a good chance in its last run with the C6.R. Porsche and SRT are slightly off, only because it’s debut for both the new 911 and Viper at Le Mans. JMW’s Ferrari is the only car without a chance.

GTE AM: Larbre Competition has won this class the last two years with older Corvettes, but about seven other cars have a realistic winning chance (No. 61, 81 Ferraris, No. 67, 76, 77 Porsches, No. 95, 96 Aston Martins).

 

Max Verstappen wins two awards at FIA Prize Giving in Vienna

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Max Verstappen capped off a remarkable 2016 Formula 1 season by winning two awards at the FIA Prize Giving in Vienna, Austria on Friday.

Verstappen, 19, became the youngest grand prix winner in F1 history at the Spanish Grand Prix in May, taking victory on his Red Bull debut after being promoted from Toro Rosso four races into the year.

The Dutchman ended the 2016 season fifth in the drivers’ championship, and also won the Driver of the Day award more times than anyone else.

Verstappen featured on the shortlist for both FIA Personality of the Year and FIA Action of the Year, having won both awards at the gala in 2015, and walked away with the silverware once again.

Verstappen was voted as the FIA Personality of the Year by permanent FIA-accredited journalists for the second year running, fending off competition from Mark Webber, Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton.

His wet-weather overtaking masterclass in Brazil saw Verstappen win the FIA Action of the Year, with his stunning overtake on Nico Rosberg being the sole nomination from F1.

The gala saw the FIA champions for 2016 be officially crowned, including Rosberg, who was given the F1 World Championship trophy just hours after announcing his retirement from racing.

Jackie Stewart calls Rosberg’s F1 retirement ‘wonderful’

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 17:  Former driver Sir Jackie Stewart walks in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Three-time Formula 1 World Champion Jackie Stewart has praised Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, calling the news “wonderful”.

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden F1 world title in Abu Dhabi.

The news has sent shockwaves through F1, with the general response being one of respect for the German’s decision.

Rosberg becomes just the fourth driver in F1 history to formally retire as champion, following in the footsteps of Mike Hawthorn, Alain Prost and Stewart.

Stewart won his third and final F1 title in 1973, but decided many months before his title success that he would call time on his career; Rosberg only made a final decision the day after his championship win.

“I was surprised when I heard the news, but I thought it was wonderful,” Stewart told Motor Sport Magazine.

“My first reaction was that it is not always possible to stop when at the top, but he has managed to do it.

“My decision was very different to Nico’s and came in very different circumstances. Motor racing is a lot less dangerous today than it was when I was making my decision.

“But I was burned out and exhausted with the travel and the racing.”

Stewart believes that the grind of the internal battles at Mercedes, particularly with teammate Lewis Hamilton, may have influenced Rosberg’s decision to call it quits.

“We don’t know what was going on this season but on the inside it could not have been enjoyable,” Stewart said.

“Now that he has won the World Championship he must have thought ‘do I need the aggro anymore?’; ‘Is it worthwhile going on?’

“He is good looking, well presented highly intelligent and a nice guy. There certainly won’t be a lack of commercial opportunities for him.”

Andretti Autosport closing on four cars for Indy Lights

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The departure of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports from the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires grid doesn’t necessarily mean a departure of cars from the grid, if those cars wind up elsewhere.

At least one more figures to land with Andretti Autosport, with the team closing on running four cars next season.

The team confirmed Nico Jamin earlier this week, in addition to the previously confirmed Dalton Kellett. Ryan Norman has tested for Andretti this offseason and figures to be added, while a fourth car would be a wild card.

“He went really well. He’s the real deal,” team principal Michael Andretti told NBC Sports about Jamin. “He’s serious about it. His approach is very professional. He’ll be really quick.

“We’re excited to have him, Dalton, and then we have a couple other deals trying to get finalized. We’d fully expect to be a four-car team. We bought a lot of stuff from (Schmidt).”

While Andretti is doing his part to help the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder with a four-car effort, and with Belardi Auto Racing and Juncos Racing poised to be bigger teams in 2017 than they were in 2016, he did note the concern over the series’ costs of operating.

For several years, Andretti Autosport ran a team in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy. However, first the team’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, then Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, programs were discontinued. The Dallara IL-15 Mazda, introduced prior to 2015, has witnessed an escalation in costs compared to the older Dallara that came into the series at its inception in 2002.

“That’s the problem; this new car made the same mistakes IndyCar did,” Andretti said. “It’s costing a good $200,000 more than what it used to, and it’s a big number. That’s been a big problem.

“That’s why they’re struggling, because it’s expensive with the (U.S.) dollar being so strong. Europeans aren’t necessarily looking because of the strength of the dollar. Personally, I feel the new car was a bit of mistake the way they went about it.”

Andretti Autosport had Kellett, Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock this year in Indy Lights. Blackstock shifted to Belardi Auto Racing, while Stoneman is unsure of what he’ll be doing next season. The Englishman won twice, both on the road course and oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rosberg would have continued in F1 had he lost title to Hamilton

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Nico Rosberg says he would have continued racing in Formula 1 had he lost the drivers’ championship to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton last weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 World Championship by five points ahead of Hamilton before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing five days later.

The news sent shockwaves through F1, but Rosberg was content with fulfilling his childhood dream and winning the World Championship, reasoning his retirement.

“When I was six years old and started out, the dream was very clear: it’s becoming Formula 1 World Champion,” Rosberg said after receiving the championship trophy at the FIA gala in Vienna on Friday.

“That’s what I pursued all along, and it’s mission accomplished for me. I’ve done it. It’s my dream come true.

“Now on to other things, family first now, in the winter gonna love that, and let’s see what the future holds. Just following my heart.”

Rosberg revealed that he would have continued in F1 had he lost out to Hamilton in the race for the championship, with his Mercedes contract running to the end of the 2018 season.

“No I never give up. So if I would have come second, I would have gone for another year for sure, next year, definitely,” Rosberg said.

“I knew when I won [I would retire], but I wasn’t sure yet if I had the courage. But here I am now, and I’m very happy.”