Halfway home at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

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Allan McNish has taken over in the No. 2 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro, which still holds the lead as this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans is now halfway complete.

The No. 2 car continues to lead by a lap over the No. 8 Toyota Hybrid, which is currently being driven by former Formula One competitor Anthony Davidson. The No. 7 Toyota Hybrid, currently driven by Nicolas Lapierre, has maintained third position and trails his teammate Davidson by one minute.

Oliver Jarvis, driving the No. 3 Audi R18, has managed to regain one of his laps against Davidson but is still running fourth overall ahead of the two Rebellion Toyotas in fifth and sixth.

In LMP2, the No. 35 Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan is still leading the way with former IndyCar pilot Martin Plowman in the cockpit. Its sister car, the No. 24, is second in the class with Alex Brundle at the controls.

GTE Pro has seen a shift at the top with the No. 99 Aston Martin Racing Vantage now atop the class with Frederic Makowiecki, ahead of Romain Dumas in the No. 92 Porsche AG Team Manthey 911. Aston and Porsche have had a strong battle in the category throughout the first half of the race.

Finally, GTE-Am is currently being led by the No. 76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 911 of Christophe Bourret, with the No. 55 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Piergiuseppe Perrazini running second.

As for Patrick Dempsey in the No. 77 Dempsey/Del Piero Porsche, he took the class lead during his stint before falling back to second and then to third after a spin at the Dunlop Esses. Currently, the No. 77 is fourth in the class with Joe Foster in the car.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.