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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).

 

Button ‘lucky’ to escape injury after drain cover damages car (VIDEO)

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Jenson Button was fortunate not to be harmed after a drain cover came loose during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday and caused a significant amount of damage to his McLaren Formula 1 car.

With the streets of Monaco forming the racetrack for the grand prix weekend, efforts are made to ensure that parts of the road such as drain covers are either removed or welded down to prevent them from damaging the cars.

Towards the end of FP1, Nico Rosberg sustained a puncture after running wide at Sainte Devote and hitting the drain cover, which then came loose and struck Button’s car.

The McLaren MP4-31 was left with significant damage to its front wing, with Button explaining that it had also affected a number of other parts in the process.

“The day was made tougher for my side of garage by the drain cover, which came loose and broke through my front wing, front suspension, brake duct and floor,” Button said.

“The mechanics did a great job to get the car ready for FP2, but we’ve still got a long way to go until we’re happy with our competitiveness.”

Button said he felt fortunate that the drain cover had remained at a low level and not come up near his cockpit.

“A racetrack is a controlled environment, and we take enough risks as racing drivers,” Button said.

“Normally, the safety standards here are very good, but that incident is something we don’t want to see again.

“It was lucky that the drain cover stayed quite low on the ground.”

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier added: “Jenson was fortunate to emerge unscathed from an incident in this morning’s session when a drain cover smashed into his car.

“The organizers work very hard to ensure this circuit is as safe as possible, but we need to look into exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ricciardo targets Monaco pole, victory after strong practice showing

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo has set his sights on winning the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time this weekend after dominating practice on Thursday for Red Bull.

Ricciardo arrived in Monaco with an updated power unit, which combined with the aerodynamic strength of the RB12 car allowed the Australian to finish six-tenths of a second clear of the field in FP2.

The result came as a surprise given Mercedes’ recent dominance and pace in first practice, but Ricciardo is confident that he can carry this form through the rest of the weekend.

“The engine has helped a little bit but obviously we have a good car around here as well, I think it’s down to a little bit of both,” Ricciardo said.

“Let’s see how we go in qualifying on Saturday. We are in a good position, depending on what the track is going to do on Sunday. I have good confidence with the car which is very important around here.

“Come qualifying and race day Mercedes will turn it up but hopefully I can stay in front. I’ll be surprised if we can keep the gap we have today in qualifying but we will see how we go.

“If the weather stays the same for the race and qualifying we won’t change too many things.

“The goal here is pole and win.”

Ricciardo’s best result in Monaco came in 2014, when he finished third behind Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in his first season with Red Bull.

Team Pelfrey restructures its operations, leadership structure

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Photo: Team Pelfrey
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You might remember earlier this year that Team Pelfrey acquired what had been 8Star Motorsports, for a two-car Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program. The team is now outright owned by Dale Pelfrey.

While Pelfrey’s name was still on the team’s respective Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and F16000 programs, the team actually had a different team principal in Nigel Tuckey.

On Thursday afternoon, that’s now changed. Pelfrey himself is now back in charge of all Team Pelfrey programs.

The Team Pelfrey teams in the Mazda Road to Indy this year have had a mixed bag.

The Indy Lights team with Juan Piedrahita and Scott Hargrove has one podium (Hargrove second at St. Petersburg), but struggled with a lack of testing and several other issues.

Pato O’Ward meanwhile has won five of the first six Pro Mazda races and is dominating that series title ahead of Aaron Telitz. Weiron Tan ran the opening two weekends at St. Petersburg and Barber but was sidelined at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend, doubtful for a further return.

Things are more fluid in USF2000. Robert Megennis is the team’s lone driver standing with Jordan Cane and James Munro both understood to be out, and T.J. Fischer’s status yet to be determined as Fischer was not on the entry list for this weekend’s race at Lucas Oil Raceway. Cane may reappear with another team later this year.

Here is the team release for more information.

One of the largest teams in the Mazda Road to Indy paddock, Team Pelfrey, is pushing into one of the most important race weekends of the year with a revised team structure, and ready to continue the great on track results.

Dale Pelfrey,founder and owner of Team Pelfrey, has re-acquired control of the team with the focus of bringing all of his teams under the same roof, providing a direct line from entry level open wheel racing all the way to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“I am extremely appreciative of everything Nigel [Tuckey] has achieved with the team for the past few years.” Commented Pelfrey. “He’s helped build the team into a real powerhouse, and while I’m sad to see him go, what we have done is secure a stronger future for our team. I’m confident we’ve got the best crew and drivers around to keep winning races and championships, and I can’t wait to see what the second half of 2016 has in store.”

While Dale Pelfrey will oversee the outfit that competes in the Formula F1600 Championship Series, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Jonny Baker will continue in an expanded fashion as Director of Team Operations.

Team Pelfrey will be competing with their star USF2000 driver Robert Megennis and Pro Mazda drivers Pato O’Ward and Aaron Telitz at Lucas Oil Raceway this weekend as a part of the Carb Night Classic event. Team Pelfrey currently lead the Driver and Team championships in Pro Mazda and have also scored two podium finishes with rookie Megennis in USF2000.

Vettel unconcerned despite ‘scrappy’ Thursday in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel remains upbeat heading into the remainder of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend despite enduring a “scrappy” practice on Thursday.

Ferrari once again failed to match the pace of both Mercedes and Red Bull in practice in Monaco, suggesting that its struggles in Spain may continue this weekend.

Vettel had a difficult second practice that saw him hit the wall twice, albeit without sustaining any major damage.

“It was not a ‘clean’ day in the office today,” Vettel conceded after finishing ninth in FP2.

“Our session was a bit scrappy: I touched the wall, damaged the rear wing, but luckily we were able to fix it and carry on.

“I just didn’t get everything out of the car, couldn’t find the rhythm and didn’t do good laps on the ultra-soft tires. If you look at the standings, we don’t belong where we scored today.”

Vettel believes that the Ferrari SF16-H car remains competitive, and is sure that Thursday’s struggles are not a sign of things to come in qualifying and the race.

“Overall the car is good and has the pace, so I am not worried for Saturday,” Vettel said.

“Today our focus was not towards ranking high up, we tried a couple of things and it is fair to say that some of them didn’t work.

“Being the first practice day, it is also difficult to see what other people did.”

Teammate Kimi Raikkonen fared marginally better than Vettel, finishing seventh in FP2 as he struggled to get to grips with the new Pirelli ultra-soft tires.

“It was not an ideal day, but it is still the first day of practice,” Raikkonen said.

“In the morning I was not very happy with the car but in the afternoon we were able to improve the behavior. There’s a lot of work to do but of course this is not the easiest place when things are not running exactly as you want.

“It’s the first time we use the ultra-soft compound in the race weekend, the feeling is that it’s the best fitting tire of all of those we have here, but we still need to find a way to make them work slightly better.”