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).

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.