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:

FULL ENTRY LIST

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.

NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

Photos courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

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F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.