Pair of former IndyCar drivers score Le Mans class wins

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Three drivers with former IndyCar ties won their classes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and one current part-timer also secured a class podium.

Bertrand Baguette and Martin Plowman, who each drove part-time in IndyCar in 2011 with Baguette full-time a year earlier, shared the winning No. 35 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan (sister No. 24 car, which finished second, pictured) in the LMP2 class with Ricardo Gonzalez.

Baguette, who nearly stole the 2011 Indianapolis 500 for Bobby Rahal’s team on fuel mileage, had to take evasive action when another LMP2 Oreca Nissan spun in front of him with just over one hour remaining. He avoided the other car and the Armco barriers to bring the car home to the finish.

“I’m delighted to win here because this is only the second time I have taken part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said the Belgian, who paid tribute to his countryman Jacky Ickx, a six-time Le Mans winner. “I hope I can follow in his footsteps and that this win was just the start.”

Plowman struggled for available track time in the week leading up to his first Le Mans start, as red flags seemed to frequently occur prior to his stint in practice and qualifying. But the Englishman drove an excellent race and was rarely outside the top three positions in the 22-car class.

“Winning Le Mans is a dream for young drivers, so this is obviously the highlight of my career to date,” he said. “Our thoughts also go out to the family of Allan Simonsen, because even though I didn’t know him personally, we have all lost a brother today.”

Jean-Karl Vernay, who raced Plowman in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights Series and secured that year’s championship, was part of the winning lineup in the GTE Am class in the No. 76 Imsa Performance Matmut Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

Mike Conway, Detroit race one winner in IndyCar this year, joined Plowman on the LMP2 class podium. The Englishman co-drove the G-Drive Racing No. 26 Oreca 03 Nissan with John Martin and Roman Rusinov to a third-place finish in his Le Mans debut.

“We had the pace to win,” Conway told RACER.com. “We had two light panel issues and lost 15 minutes in the pits total getting it fixed. That ended up costing us a couple of laps…the fight back was good, but now we need to come back and win.”

Various mechanical failures blighted the charge of Ryan Briscoe in the Level 5 Motorsports’ HPD ARX-03b. The jet-setting Australian now heads back to the U.S. to test Panther Racing’s IndyCar Tuesday in Pocono.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.