Audi turns back Toyota challenge for WEC victory in Austin

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The reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans champions hit the top step of the podium today in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s six-hour battle at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Loic Duval, Allen McNish and Tom Kristensen in the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro (pictured, from their victory this year at Le Mans) earned overall and LMP1 wins by a margin of 23.6 seconds over the No. 8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin, and Sebastian Buemi, which provided the Audi camp with a stiff push during the proceedings.

“The car was faultless and it ran really well,” McNish said afterwards during the WEC’s worldwide streaming broadcast. “The guys set it up extremely well considering we had such a lack of practice time, and I’m very, very pleased.”

In the LMP2 category, IZOD IndyCar Series part-timer Mike Conway helped the No. 26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 03 Nissan net top honors for the second consecutive WEC race alongside co-drivers Roman Rusinov and John Martin.

“Hopefully we can keep this going on for the next few rounds,” Martin said. “It’s amazing. The team’s done an absolutely awesome job all weekend. We’ve been the fastest in every session – just amazing.”

GTE-Pro top honors went to the No. 99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Fred Makowiecki and Bruno Senna, nephew of Formula One great Ayrton Senna. Aston Martin also reigned supreme in GTE-AM, securing a 1-2 finish in class with the No. 96 combo of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall taking the checkers by 1.5 seconds over the No. 95 trio of Nicki Thiim, Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard.

According to the Circuit of the Americas, the combined WEC-American Le Mans Series weekend drew a three-day crowd of 33,591 despite heavy rains marring the first day of the weekend on Friday. For comparison’s sake, COTA drew 26,648 fans for its two-day GRAND-AM weekend this past spring.

The WEC now moves on to Japan, where they’ll stage another six-hour run at Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway on October 20.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.