Nine hours in, Audi’s No. 2 leads at Le Mans

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The No. 2 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro of Tom Kristensen, Loic Duval and Allan McNish continues to pace the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but the 4-Rings’ early dominance has taken a hit as the darkness sets in at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

After leading early on, Audi Sport’s No. 1 car for Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer has re-joined the race after being forced to the garage to have its alternator replaced. The issue cost the No. 1 team 11 laps and it is now running 16th overall. As for the No. 3 Audi team of Lucas Di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Marc Gene, they have held on to fourth position after suffering damage to its car following a tire puncture. During a recent safety car period, the Audi Sport crew put multiple new pieces of bodywork on the No. 3, including a rear deck, front nose and right side pod.

The two Toyota hybrids continue to stalk the No. 2 Audi, with the No. 8 of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin running second and the No. 7 of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima in third.

In the LMP2 category, two of the Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan machines are leading the way, with the No. 35 of Bertrand Baguette, Martin Plowman and Ricardo Gonzalez ahead of the No. 24 of Olivier Pla, David Heinemeier Hansson and Alex Brundle.

The GTE-Pro class is still being led by Aston Martin Racing, with the No. 99 of Bruno Senna, Frederic Makowiecki and Robert Bell leading its sister car, the No. 97 for Stefan Mucke, Darren Turner and Peter Dumbreck.

Finally, GTE-Am currently features the No. 88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Christian Ried, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti leading the No. 77 Dempsey Del Piero-Proton Porsche, which is currently being driven by actor Patrick Dempsey.

The “Grey’s Anatomy” star always draws attention, which manifested itself in the team’s most recent driver change from Patrick Long to Dempsey. When Long climbed out of the No. 77, he was compelled to push away some photographers who had crowded around the car, presumably to take a snap of Dempsey getting into the car.

Ferrari, Mercedes launch 2018 F1 cars

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The title combatants from the 2017 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season both launched their 2018 challengers earlier on Thursday, with Scuderia Ferrari revealing the SF71H and Mercedes AMG Petronas revealing the W09.

For Ferrari, the SF71H represents an evolution of last year’s SF70H, which helped produce Ferrari’s best season in several years.

They presented a strong challenge to Mercedes for the championship, even leading the way at various points, with Sebastian Vettel recording five wins along the way. But, mechanical failures and crashes hampered their efforts late in the season, and they settled for second in the driver’s championship (with Vettel) and the constructor’s championship.

Entering 2018, the team is emphasizing the importance of building momentum with every race to ultimately secure their first constructor’s crown since 2008 and their first driver’s crown since 2007.

“There are no challenges actually. There are no challenges in the plural. There is just one challenge, which is the final challenge,” asserted team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. So that’s work that you build and you don’t build that work in one or two races. We’ve seen over the last few years, in the last championships, that you work race by race, and you always try to do the best you can.”

Technical director Mattia Binotto detailed some of the updates on the 2018 car, such as an new power unit and new suspension designs in anticipation of new tire constructions.

“We worked a lot on the power unit, we worked on its reliability and performance. We worked on the packaging, on suspensions in the rear axle because there will be new tires the following season, so we also tried to design the car to accommodate the new tires,” he explained.

Binotto added, “In regards to aerodynamics, we maintained our concept of having the inlets on the radiators, and everybody’s copying that, but we tried to make an additional step forward and what we showed today is not the same element of last year, but it is something more developed.”

Mercedes, meanwhile, will look to take it’s fifth consecutive driver’s and constructor’s championships with the W09. The team even took the car to the track for its launch, conducting a filming day at Silverstone Circuit.

“It is always a very exciting time because what has been designed is coming together and coming alive,”  team principal Toto Wolff said during the launch.

Despite facing challenges with last year’s car, the W08, the team elected to follow a similar design concept with the aerodynamics to improve on the car’s strengths while simultaneously addressing its weak points.

“We like some of the character traits from our diva,” Wolf quipped. “The W08 was the fastest car on the grid, scoring the highest number of pole positions and winning the most races last year. So we were careful not to lose the car’s many strengths just to overcome the difficulties.”

Both Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to slug it out again for the 2018 driver’s and constructor’s championships.

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