Loic Duval’s fastest lap leads Audi 1-2-3 in Le Mans qualifying

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Qualifying for a 24-hour race isn’t particularly important, but the pride of being on pole position still matters. For three manufacturers, they have that honor for the 90th Anniversary 24 Hours of Le Mans.

To no-one’s great surprise, Audi has scored the overall pole with the No. 2 R18 e-tron quattro co-driven by Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval. Duval’s lap set Wednesday held as the fastest overall at 3:22.349 around the 8.469-mile Circuit de la Sarthe. Audi has the top three spots in LMP1 and overall, with the No. 1 second (Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler) and the No. 3 third (Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gene, Oliver Jarvis).

Nissan captured the pole in LMP2 with OAK Racing, and French driver Olivier Pla in the No. 24 Morgan Nissan. Mike Conway’s No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca Nissan is second on the grid ahead of the No. 38 Zytek Nissan fielded by JOTA Sport (Simon Dolan, Oliver Turvey, Lucas Luhr). Pla co-drives with Danish programming whiz David Heinemeier Hansson and Martin Brundle’s son Alex, while Conway co-drives with John Martin and Roman Rusinov.

Aston Martin has completed a lockout of the GTE Pro and GTE Am class poles with 2013 and 2012-spec Vantages. Fred Makowiecki has the GTE Pro class pole in the No. 99 entry, which he’ll co-drive with Rob Bell and ex-Williams F1 driver Bruno Senna. Allan Simonsen set the mark in GTE Am, for year-old spec cars. Makowiecki’s best lap was 3:54.635 with Simonsen at 3:57.776.

As for the highlights of teams and drivers from the ALMS and GRAND-AM:

  • ALMS team Rebellion Racing’s No. 12 Lola Toyota dropped one spot from Wednesday, and will start the 24 Hours sixth overall (and LMP1). ALMS regulars Nick Heidfield and Neel Jani are joined by Nicolas Prost this weekend in the prototype. Rebellion’s No. 13 entry, co-driven by Andrea Belicchi, Mathias Beche and Cong Fu Cheng, qualified right behind, in seventh.
  • The No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8, co-driven by Bill Auberlen, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy, qualified fifth, in GTE Pro.The No. 77 Dempsey Del Piero-Proton Porsche 911 GT3 with Patrick Long, Joe Foster and Patrick Dempsey driving, will start seventh in the LM GTE Am class.
  • The sole GRAND-AM team competing, 8 Star Motorsports, has a Ferrari F458 Italia going off ninth in GTE Am. Owner/driver Enzo Potolicchio is joined by co-drivers Rui Aguas and Jason Bright.
  • The three teams featuring GRAND-AM Corvette DP standouts Richard Westbrook, Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor – all in Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1s – will start deep in their respective classes. Westbrook’s team starts eighth in GTE Pro; Jordan Taylor’s team starts ninth in GTE Pro, and Ricky Taylor’s team starts 12th in GTE Am.
  • And Ryan Dalziel, a Le Mans champion last year in LMP2, will co-drive the No. 53 SRT Motorsports Viper which will grid 10th in GTE Pro.

The race begins at 3 p.m. local time Saturday (check local listings).

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.