Le Mans: Prospeed, JMW GTE squads add American flavor

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It’s not a great year for full American teams to be heading to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. But two GTE-Am class entries have added an American flavor in the last few days.

First up is the Prospeed Competition squad, which adds a second 2012-spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to the class for Jeroen Bleekemolen, Cooper MacNeil and Bret Curtis, with support from WeatherTech. The No. 79 entry runs as a sister car to Prospeed’s FIA World Endurance Championship-entered No. 75 car.

“Both of them have Le Mans experience, so we should be a very strong combination,” Bleekemolen said of his co-drivers. “We are not going to Le Mans just to make up numbers, at the same time, we know how competitive it is.”

The talented Dutch driver was set to drive for SRT Motorsports in GTE-Pro, before the team withdrew its two SRT Viper GTS-Rs.

Meanwhile the JMW Motorsport Ferrari squad has switched from longtime tire partner Dunlop to Michelin, and added depth on the driving and team fronts from Flying Lizard Motorsports. Americans Spencer Pumpelly and Seth Neiman join Abdulfaziz Alfaisal in the No. 66 Ferrari F458 Italia, with Flying Lizard team manager Eric Ingraham and strategist Thomas Blam also making the trip.

“I wasn’t sure I could find a way back to Le Mans after the class changes with the creation of [TUSC],” Neiman said. “Missing last year – my first June home in nearly a decade – was no fun at all. Doing so with JMW and Ferrari promises to be a very competitive experience. We will miss our normal co-drivers from the States, Dion and Nelson, but Spencer’s Le Mans experience is irreplaceable for this effort. This is a strong team, a strong car, with great co-drivers. I am really looking forward to this effort with JMW.”

A raft of withdrawals leave the 56-car field with no reserves, a little more than a month away before the race.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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