Police investigation: Mechanical failure led to Jason Leffler crash, death

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Following more than a week-long investigation, New Jersey state police said the wreck that claimed the life of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler in a June 12 dirt track race in Bridgeport, N.J., was caused by a mechanical problem.

While the report is not fully completed, several findings have come to light to explain much of the reason why Leffler’s car suddenly went out of control and flipped several times before coming to rest. Leffler was taken to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead less than an hour after the wreck, which occurred shortly after 9 pm ET.

Police believe a torsion stop, which is part of the sprint car’s suspension, somehow broke off and became lodged between a wheel and the steering control system, rendering the car uncontrollable. The car came out of the fourth turn, spun, then hit the outside concrete retaining wall, flipping several times before coming to a rest, as well.

While the report has not determined how fast Leffler was going when the crash occurred, the police report said cars were averaging 135 mph and as high as 150 mph on both straightaways during the course of the race.

The official cause of death, as determined by a local medical examiner, has been ruled blunt-force injuries to Leffler’s neck.

Leffler, 37, was buried Wednesday, one week after the tragedy. He leaves behind a five-year-old son. A trust fund for Leffler’s son has been established by several of Leffler’s fellow NASCAR drivers.

Longtime friend and mentor Tony Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion who also co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing and owns or has partial ownership in several short tracks like the New Jersey facility, said last week in Michigan that the facility was not at fault.

“It was an accident,” Stewart said. “Just like if you go out and there’s a car crash. It’s an accident. Nobody as a track owner wants to go through what happened this week, but it’s not due to a lack of effort on their part to try to make their facilities as safe as possible under the conditions they have.”

Manor alters No. 24 crew line-up for WEC Mexico

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Manor’s Jean-Eric Vergne will be joined by two new drivers in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson for the upcoming FIA World Endurance Championship round in Mexico following a revision of the team’s line-up.

Manor fielded ex-Toro Rosso Formula 1 and current Formula E racer Vergne alongside Jonathan Hirschi and Tor Graves in the No. 24 Oreca through the opening three rounds of the season, the trio recording a best finish of fourth in the LMP2 class at Le Mans.

Vergne was replaced by Roberto Merhi for the last round at the Nürburgring due to Formula E’s clashing commitments in New York, but will be joined by an all-new line-up for the next race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on September 3.

Matt Rao returns to Manor’s LMP2 line-up after featuring last season ahead of a move to Signatech Alpine for 2017, acting as its silver-rated driver.

Vergne and Rao will be joined by British racer Ben Hanley, who moves onto his third team of the WEC season after featuring for TDS Racing, DragonSpeed and G-Drive Racing so far this season at Spa, Le Mans and the Nürburgring respectively.

Manor’s No. 25 Oreca line-up remains unchanged, with Vitaly Petrov being joined by Simon Trummer and Roberto Gonzalez for Mexico City.

Click here to see the full entry list of the 6 Hours of Mexico.

Porsche staying coy on Formula 1 engine rumors

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Porsche has remained coy on rumors it could be set to enter Formula 1 as an engine supplier in the near future despite confirming that it is in the process of developing a “high-performance, high-efficiency engine”.

Porsche rocked the motorsport world last month by announcing it would be closing its LMP1 program at the end of the season in order to prepare for an entry to Formula E in 2019.

The realignment of its motorsport strategy came following Porsche’s attendance of meetings regarding F1’s future power options, set to come into play for the 2021 season.

The German marque had been rumored to be considering entering F1 as an engine supplier alongside its Formula E commitments, with member of the executive board research and development Michael Steiner responding to the speculation.

“Like other manufacturers, we participate in discussions on the future Formula 1 powertrain at the invitation of the FIA,” Steiner said.

“At the moment, the team in Weissach is not working on an F1 engine, but it is working on a high-performance, high-efficiency engine, specifically at the design level.

“So far, we have not decided what we will do with this engine, or in other words whether we will use it in series production or in motorsport. If the LMP1 programme had continued, we would have worked on efficient high-performance engines, and we are now pushing ahead with this development.

“The development contract with the engineers will run for the next 18 months.”

When asked directly if Porsche would be entering F1 in 2021, Steiner said: “I am not working on that assumption, but there is no statement to be made about this.”

F1 currently boasts four engine manufacturers – Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda and Renault – but is known to be discussing its future regulations with a number of parties both inside and outside of the sport.

Porsche last featured in F1 as an engine supplier in 1991, powering the Footwork team for six races before its switch to Ford engines for the remainder of the season.

Hunter-Reay bullish on Andretti manufacturer choice, whichever it is

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One of the key dominos to the Verizon IndyCar Series silly season prognosticating for 2018 is whether Andretti Autosport will stick with Honda or switch to Chevrolet for its powerplant.

Luckily for its second longest tenured driver in Ryan Hunter-Reay, with the stability of a long-term contract in place with the team and with DHL and having had success with both manufacturers, it doesn’t particularly matter.

Hunter-Reay is one of only three full-time drivers on the grid who have both an IndyCar championship (2012) and an Indianapolis 500 victory (2014) on his resume (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan) and achieved them with separate manufacturers.

Andretti’s team went with Chevrolet when engine competition came back into the series in 2012, while the team switched back to Honda in 2014 as Chip Ganassi Racing went the other way from Honda to Chevrolet.

“It’s funny; I’m an Andretti Autosport driver and a DHL brand representative. But on the engine front, I’m usually one of the last to know!” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.

“Michael takes care of the business decisions. So I have a great relationship with both brands, and have won with both manufacturers. And we’ll keep our head down and focused. The only goal is to win races, regardless of which engine is powering us.”

Hunter-Reay is thankful to be solidified in his place at Andretti Autosport as the team – perhaps – and the series in general is poised for a busy “silly season” of movement, depending on the manufacturer selection.

Despite starting out with a limited number of races only with the team in 2010, a key win at Long Beach helped lay the groundwork for Hunter-Reay’s eventual consistent tenure driving the No. 28 DHL car – which became No. 1 in 2013 after he won the previous year’s title.

Considering from 2003 to 2009, Hunter-Reay’s open-wheel career took a variety of twists and turns, he’s appreciative of the support shown by all that has kept him gainfully employed.

“It’s been so nice. Obviously it’s been good to be in a position to work to be at Andretti Autosport, starting in 2010. But with more success with DHL; that started to accumulate. Then I became a DHL brand ambassador. They’re family to me,” he said.

“We’ve won a good amount of races, a championship and an Indy 500, but we need to do a lot more. We’re all so hungry. There’s no comfort or complacency in any way being here, but it’s nice knowing I’ll have the 28 DHL car for several more years to come.”

Pocono is a critical cross point for Hunter-Reay as he comes to this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), as it’s the two-year mark since his most recent win in the series at this race. He probably could have won last year had it not been for a mysterious electronics glitch that knocked him to the back of the field, before he recovered to third.

With Andretti Autosport having captured three of the six 500-mile superspeedway races since the manufacturer aero kit introduction in 2015 – Hunter-Reay at Pocono that year, then Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato in the last two Indianapolis 500s – the team must be considered a favorite heading into this weekend’s race.

Especially, perhaps, if it might mark the team’s last superspeedway race for the foreseeable future with a Honda powerplant in the back.

Leclerc admits surprise over Formula 2 results in 2017

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Charles Leclerc has admitted he is surprised by his domination of the FIA Formula 2 championship through 2017, but is refusing to relent in his bid to step up to Formula 1 in the near future.

Leclerc, 19, stepped up to F2 for 2017 after winning the GP3 title last year, and has swept the competition away so far this season with five race wins and six pole positions to open up a 50-point lead at the top of the championship standings.

The Monegasque racer recently tested an F1 car for Ferrari and has been linked with a drive at Sauber for 2018, but does not feel any extra pressure despite the speculation surrounding him.

“The results in this first part of the season have been better than expected and we’re clearly delighted about that,” Leclerc told the official F1 website.

“Seeing my name in the media more often and having it linked to Formula 1 and Ferrari is nice, but it’s not putting any extra pressure on me.

“There’s never a day goes by when I don’t think about what I want to achieve and I always give a hundred percent to get there.

“Being in Formula 1 is my dream and my goal and I am doing everything I can to make it happen.”

While Leclerc is being touted as a future Ferrari driver, he is remaining focused on the job at hand: winning the F2 title in 2017.

“Yes, it’s true, racing for the Scuderia would be the realization of a dream,” Leclec said.

“But for now I have to focus solely on winning in F2, on giving it my all over the next few months.

“If I don’t succeed, then I won’t really go much further.”