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Le Mans: GTE stunners and spoilers

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Some classes are more wide open than others in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans field. Here’s a look at likely contenders for the GTE-Pro and the GTE-Am class victories:

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GTE-Pro: Porsche and Ferrari have the slightest of edges over Aston Martin, with Corvette lurking with its new C7.R.

  • AF Corse Ferrari: The No. 51 (Gianmaria Bruni/Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella) edges the No. 71 (Davide Rigon/James Calado/Olivier Beretta) on pace and experience, and overall in GTE-Pro, it’s hard to find a better driver lineup than the No. 51. But will the F458 Italia have the outright pace?
  • Porsche Team Manthey: Both the No. 91 and 92 lineups are stacked, as are the 991-spec 911s. Frederic Makowiecki has the ability for a star turn in the No. 92 after departing from Aston Martin, and co-driver Marco Holzer is another one to watch. The No. 91 features the more veteran trio of Patrick Pilet, Jorg Bergmeister and Nick Tandy, although Tandy’s in only his second Le Mans, and first in a factory seat.
  • Aston Martin Racing No. 97: Just the Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Bruno Senna car has a shot this race, and a win would make three different manufacturers on top in GTE-Pro in as many FIA World Endurance Championship races this year (Porsche and Ferrari have split the first two).
  • Corvette Racing: Either of the two new C7.Rs seek a bounce back from a miserable 2013. Staying out of the garage remains key as ever and the Corvette contingent isn’t exactly sure where it stacks up on straight line speed. But the veteran savvy and winning legacy of the team endures, and will no doubt keep at least one of the two cars in contention until the morning.

Ram Racing’s No. 52, in the team’s Le Mans debut and the Craft-Bamboo No. 99 AMR entry are seriously unlikely to fit into the equation.

GTE-Am: Like LMP2, hard to project an exact winner, but a Ferrari’s a good bet with 11 of the 19 cars entered in class.

  • Ram Racing No. 53: As solid a lineup as can be assembled within the GTE-Am regulations. Johnny Mowlem, Mark Patterson and Archie Hamilton are a podium-contending trio.
  • Krohn Racing: A bit of a Jekyll and Hyde at Le Mans in terms of performance and reliability; Krohn was the last and latest entry into this year’s field but could well finish strongly if they stay out of trouble.
  • AF Corse No. 61, 81: The two WEC-entered AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italias have better lineups than the primarily gentlemen No. 60 and 62 cars. The No. 81 includes rising star Sam Bird and must be watched closely.
  • JMW Motorsport: The mix of the JMW squad with Flying Lizard elements (Thomas Blam and Eric Ingraham for strategy plus Spencer Pumpelly and Seth Neiman driving) is a good one. Podium’s very much possible for the No. 66, ironically, Pumpelly’s old number at TRG back in the day.
  • Prospeed Competition: Both the No. 75 and 79 are the 2012-spec 997-based 911 GT3 RSR, which is one of the most proven GTE cars at Le Mans. Markus Palttala is the driver to watch in the No. 75; the No. 79 features Jeroen Bleekemolen.
  • Dempsey Racing/Proton Competition: Both the No. 77 and 88 are the newer 2013-spec 991-based 911s, and either’s a podium contender. Dempsey Racing is particularly motivated to podium, if not win, after just missing out in 2013.
  • 8Star Motorsports: Decent lineup of Frankie Montecalvo, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti could be a podium contender.
  • Aston Martin Racing: A win for the No. 95, the all-Danish crew of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thiim is the emotional favorite a year after Allen Simonsen lost his life in that car. The sister No. 98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Christoffer Nygaard is also as strong a lineup as can occur within the class.

Of the rest, I’m not expecting too much from Team Sofrev ASP, both older Imsa Performance Matmut cars and the Team Taisan and SMP Ferraris. Yes, the No. 76 Imsa car won last year in GTE-Am, but much for 2014 will be determined on how well Nicolas Armindo can bring along the other two in that car.

Button ‘almost there’ on deciding Formula 1 future

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda sits in his car in the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button says he is “almost there” on deciding his future in Formula 1 as McLaren continues to deliberate its driver line-up for 2017.

Button is the most experienced driver currently racing in F1, and has been with McLaren since 2010.

Fernando Alonso is set to remain with McLaren for next season, but the team is yet to decide whether it will retain Button or promote junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne into a full-time seat.

Button has been linked with a return to Williams – the team he made his F1 debut with in 2000 – should McLaren drop him.

The 2009 F1 world champion is yet to decide whether or not he will continue in F1 next year, but feels he is close to a decision.

“I am almost there with my thought process and you will hear about it soon. I can’t put a timescale on it, but it will be soon enough,” Button told Press Association.

“I did think about it lot [over the summer]. I didn’t have a lot of time to lie on a sun-lounger and think about it to be fair.

“I was busy, but yes, of course, I thought about it.”

Button’s last race win came at the end of 2012 with McLaren, and has not finished on the podium since the start of 2014 thanks to difficulties with the team’s Honda engine last year.

Although McLaren is on the rise, Button stressed that he wants to be in a car that is capable of battling at the front of the pack in 2017.

“I have always said that if I feel like I can be in a car that is fighting for wins I will definitely stay. I think any racing driver would,” Button said.

“But if I am not and I feel like I am not, there is nothing else for me to achieve. I will go and play darts instead.

“I can’t just sit on the beach. I will do all sorts of racing after F1 whether it is in racing cars, push bikes, or triathlons because I am a competitive person and I always want to win.

“So, that is what I want to do. Something I can fight for wins in.”

Button has been linked with a move into the FIA World Endurance Championship should he decide to call time on his F1 career, and is also likely to take up rallycross in some form, following in the footsteps of his father, John.

A roof popped off a BMW M6 GTLM in IMSA’s VIR first practice

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First practice for this weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge, a GT Le Mans and GT Daytona-only round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at VIRginia International Raceway is in the books.

Fastest times were set by Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR (1:43.232, GTLM and overall) and Madison Snow in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (1:45.722, GTD).

Bamber told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam, “It’s a good way to start the weekend. It’s a new surface; it already seems quicker than last year. The guys at VIR have done a great job to repave it. It’s been pretty difficult the last couple races for us.”

But the session was more notable because it featured a weird interruption, when the roof off the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM popped off on course.

It left Dirk Werner needing to bring the car, sans the roof and rear window, into the pit lane but luckily without further damage following the inadvertent convertible debut of the car.

Werner’s befuddled co-driver, Bill Auberlen, attempted to explain the situation to Adam.

“I’m telling you… I’m dying to ask if it was cooler inside the cockpit!” Auberlen told IMSA Radio, noting how hot it is on track, as well (ambient temperatures are expected in the mid-90s with track temperatures in the 110-115 range).

“So no, we did not plan on this. This is very odd. It’s bizarre how the roof would blow off the thing.

“I went in the grass once. Couldn’t get the downshfits accomplished. Now this. Maybe we get all the troubles out now.

“But now the roof blew off? No idea how, it’s just bad luck.”

Here’s pics and a few tweets about the abnormal incident:

Dover agrees to sell Nashville track to real estate company

NASHVILLE, TN - JULY 15:  Scott Dixon driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, and Dario Francitti driver of the #27 Canadian Club Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda, lead the field during the IRL Indycar Series Firestone Indy 200 on July 15, 2007 at the Nashville Superspeedway  in Lebanon, Tennessee.  (Photo by  Gavin Lawrence/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Dover Motorsports Inc. has a new buyer for the Nashville Superspeedway in a commercial real estate development company.

The motorsports company said Thursday that Panattoni Development Company will buy the superspeedway for $27.5 million and also take over Dover’s obligations under bonds issued in 1999 to help build infrastructure supporting the track. The bonds currently have a balance of $17.2 million, and Panattoni will replace Dover Motorsports’ letter of credit with its own.

Dover expects the sale to close in 2017 pending zoning approvals.

This is the second time Dover announced a buyer of the 1.33-mile concrete track about 30 miles east of Nashville that closed in 2011. Dover announced in May 2014 a deal selling to NeXovation Inc. worth nearly $46 million, which later fell through.

Rosberg praises Mercedes for ‘great job’ on F1 Halo

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Nico Rosberg has praised Mercedes for doing a “great job” in designing the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection that may be introduced to Formula 1 in 2018.

Following the deaths of F1 driver Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing, the FIA has placed improving cockpit safety high on its agenda in 2016.

The Halo made its public debut in pre-season testing and underwent brief testing on race weekends before the F1 Strategy Group opted to delay its introduction until 2018 at the earliest.

Opening practice for the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday saw the most extensive Halo test yet as Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo all completed laps with it fitted to their cars.

Rosberg set his fastest practice time using the Halo, and called its trial a “success” when reflecting on his running.

“The team have done a great job on the Halo. It doesn’t disturb me when driving,” Rosberg said.

“I could go fast straight away and even set the best time of the session with it this morning, so I think that was a success.”

Rosberg topped FP1 before focusing on race pace in second practice at Spa-Francorchamps, finishing the session in sixth place.

The German was pleased with his running, believing that tire management will be key come Sunday’s race.

“Car-wise we seem to be quick,” Rosberg said.

“The grid is a bit all over the place this afternoon with people doing different things with the tires. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the race. Long run pace will be important as you can overtake here.

“I don’t know how we’re looking yet – we’ll need to look into that.

“But there was a lot of tire degradation, so managing that on Sunday will be important.”