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).

 

Leah Pritchett has quickest run in NHRA history at 3.640 seconds

Photo courtesy Don Schumacher Racing
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BRAINERD, Minn. (AP) Leah Pritchett had the quickest run in NHRA history with 3.640-second pass at 330.63 mph Friday night at Brainerd International Speedway in Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals qualifying.

She broke her own Top Fuel record of 3.658 set in Arizona in February.

“We’ve looked forward to this night session for a long time,” Pritchett said. “Knowing that Brainerd, this track, this surface, the conditions and what NHRA is able to do to it, lays down the ground work for us to pull out the most power possible. That’s what this team did. They have been working tirelessly at finding small amounts of power here, there and everywhere and to be able to put it on the track tonight was incredible.”

Robert Hight broke the Funny Car time record with a 3.793 at 338.00 in a Chevrolet Camaro SS, the first run in the 3.7s in Funny Car history. He set the speed record of 339.87 last month at Sonoma Raceway.

“I could tell it was running fast and I saw the 3.79 on the scoreboard,” Hight said. “It’s just something you dream about. There are so many things that have to happen and work together for it all to come together. It’s not that easy. This is a big milestone. To be part of a milestone as a driver, this was big for me.”

Tanner Gray topped the Pro Stock field, and Hector Arana Jr. was the fastest in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Gray had a 6.607 at 208.617 in a Chevrolet Camaro, and Arana had a 6.879 at 194.24 on a Buell.

Back racing after F1 test, Norris dominates Zandvoort F3 opener

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McLaren younster Lando Norris made an emphatic return to racing action after the summer break by dominating the opening race of the FIA European Formula 3 weekend at Zandvoort, taking his sixth win of the season.

Norris, 17, moved up to F3 for 2017 after winning two Formula Renault titles last year, as well as linking up with McLaren’s junior program.

The Briton impressed during his maiden Formula 1 test in Hungary at the end of last month, and carried the momentum through to Zandvoort by taking pole position for Carlin for the first race of the weekend.

Norris retained his lead at the start and only came under pressure following a safety car period, with Swedish youngster Joel Eriksson running close for the lead.

Norris was able to create a gap and pull away, completing a wire-to-wire win with almost nine seconds in hand over the pack for his sixth win of the season.

The result sees Norris move to within eight points of championship leader Maximillian Günther, the German finishing third on Saturday at Zandvoort.

Carpenter, Jones crash as Hunter-Reay leads Pocono practice

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LONG POND, Pa. – The Saturday morning practice for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway saw Honda jump to the fore, though a pair of incidents forced stoppages near the end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay topped the time charts with a quick lap of 219.268 mph, turned in the second half of the session. Hunter-Reay led Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the best of the Chevrolet runners, the Frenchman turning a best lap of 219.211 mph.

Tony Kanaan was third for Chip Ganassi Racing, with Hunter-Reay’s teammate Marco Andretti in fourth after leading most of the session. Kanaan’s teammate Scott Dixon completed the top five, while sixth-place Takuma Sato and seventh-place Alexander Rossi made it four Andretti Autosport cars in the top ten.

The morning practice saw three stoppages. The first was only for a quick track inspection, but the next two were for crashes.

The first was for Ed Carpenter. Carpenter’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet broke loose exiting turn three 3 and smacked the outside wall with the left side. Carpenter climbed out unhurt, but the car sustained heavy damage. However, the team immediately began repairing the car ahead of qualifying this afternoon.

The other incident was for Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones. Jones’ No. 19 Honda spun in the middle of turn 2, but only sustained minor damage to the front nose, which brushed the outside wall during the spin.

Both Carpenter and Jones were checked, cleared, and released from the infield care center. Times are below. Qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

NHRA: Hight uncorks first 3.70 Funny Car run in history in Brainerd

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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Last night, Robert Hight and the John Force Racing team took an even bigger step in their recent run of form with a new record elapsed time in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history for the Funny Car class.

With a 3.793-second pass at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, Hight became the first Funny Car driver in history to run a pass under 3.80 seconds in the class’ history.

The full team release is below.

Auto Club of Southern California driver Robert Hight is getting pretty good at making history.

Two races ago, the Chevrolet Camaro SS driver set the national speed record of 339.87 mph at Sonoma, Calif.

On Friday at Brainerd International Raceway, Hight again went to new heights. The John Force Racing driver became the first in Funny Car to run under the 3.8-second mark, making a pass of 3.793 seconds at 338.00 mph to earn the provisional No. 1 spot for the NHRA Nationals on Friday night.

“It’s something you dream about,” Hight said. “There are so many things that have to happen, and so many people that have to work together for it to happen. It’s just not that easy. We’ve been on runs before that you think that, if it’d finished, it would have run in the .70s.

“To be the first – that’s history. This is a big milestone. It’s going to be a long time before we get into the 3.60s. To be a part of a milestone – I’ve been on John’s teams when he’s cracked barriers, but never done it as a driver – so this is big for me and the whole team. We’re ecstatic.”

Hight and his Auto Club team, led by crew chief Jimmy Prock and co-crew chief Chris Cunningham, have been on fire recently. Hight won in Denver and Seattle, earned No. 1 qualifiers in three of the last four races, qualified in the top three in each of the last nine races and now has set the national record for elapsed time and speed.

Hight sat in the No. 2 spot after the first session Friday with a run of 3.844 seconds at 335.07 mph but figured the “Prock Rocket” could go even quicker – and it certainly did.

“I could tell it was running fast,” Hight said. “The clutch disc was boiling, and that’s the way Jimmy runs it. That’s how he wants to wear the clutch. It was hard to see, but I did see the 3.79 on the scoreboard, because we shut off at 1,000 feet, I had the chutes out, and I glanced up there but I didn’t know the speed.”

Hight led a solid 1-3-4 effort for JFR, as PEAK Coolant & Motor Oil driver John Force was No. 3 with a run of 3.852 seconds at 334.15 mph and Advance Auto Parts driver Courtney Force was No. 4 with a pass of 3.863 seconds at 335.98 mph.

Brittany Force was No. 2 in Top Fuel, making a brilliant run of 3.685 seconds at a track-record speed of 333.16 mph. That speed was matched the third-best in NHRA history.

JFR now owns six of the nine fastest speeds in Funny Car history, as well as three of the six quickest elapsed times in Funny Car history.

Additionally, JFR Funny Cars own 12 of the 21 track records for elapsed time.