2014 24 Hours of Le Mans Race Updates

Leave a comment

Rolling updates from the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans are below…

7:00 a.m. ET: It’s game over for Porsche. A strategic chess match between the No. 20 Porsche and No. 2 Audi has now fallen to Audi, with Mark Webber’s Porsche slowing on the Mulsanne Straight with just over two-hours to go.

LMP2 may still be a shootout with the top three within a minute.

6:00 a.m. ET: Just when the LMP1 and LMP2 classes appeared to be settled, drama has struck at Le Mans to blow the race wide open with three hours to go at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

The No. 1 Audi, piloted by Tom Kristensen, enjoyed a healthy lead over the No. 20 Porsche, but this was lost when the car came to a halt on the exit of the first chicane. The Dane managed to restart the car, only to return to the pits for a turbocharger change. Lucas di Grassi got behind the wheel and rejoined in third place.

Timo Bernhard currently leads the race for Porsche, but he is being chased by Andre Lotterer in the No. 2 Audi, who is less than ten seconds down the road.

The GTE Pro class is currently still being led by the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of Toni Vilander, whilst the No. 95 Aston Martin is heading up the GTE Am class.

With three hours to go, the race has been turned on its head – and there’s still a long way to go.

In LMP2, the No. 46 Ligier surrendered the lead due to a suspension problem, handing control of the class to Oak Racing and Alex Brundle.

4:00 a.m. ET: We’ve had a great lead battle in GTE-Pro between the No. 51 Ferrari and No. 97 Aston Martin come to an end after the No. 97 went to the garage with overheating issues, and lost more than 20 minutes.

The LMP2 leader had a problem as well at the end of the 19th hour, with the No. 35 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissan going behind the wall with apparent engine issues. The similar Ligier JS P2 Nissan entry, the No. 46 fielded by Thiriet by TDS Racing, now leads.

The No. 1 Audi (LMP1) and No. 95 Aston Martin (GTE-Am) are the other class leaders.

1:05 a.m. ET: More drama up front, this time for Audi. The No. 2 Audi had taken over the overall lead following the No. 7’s retirement, due to an electrical issue with the car’s wiring loom.

But just before the 16-hour mark, the No. 2 Audi driven by Marcel Fassler pitted to replace the turbo. That promoted the sister No. 1 car to the lead.

Other class leaders include the No. 35 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissan (LMP2), No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia (GTE-Pro) and No. 95 Aston Martin Vantage (GTE-Am).

11:30 p.m. ET: A stellar race from the No. 7 Toyota has ended in disaster and a retirement from this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Kaz Nakajima was driving the TS040 Hybrid when it came to a stop on the track a short time ago.

One of Nakajima’s co-drivers, Alex Wurz, captured the despair in the Toyota camp with a tweet:

Toyota’s Rob Leupen told Fox Sports that an electrical problem was the culprit behind the demise of the No. 7.

“It’s motorsport,” Leupen ended with a sad shrug.

With nine and a half hours remaining, the No. 2 Audi has taken control of the lead with Benoit Treluyer currently driving.

9 p.m. ET (HALFWAY HOME): It’s 12 hours down, 12 more to go in this year’s running of the world’s most prestigious sports car race – which is firmly in Toyota’s control at the moment.

Their No. 7 TS040 Hybrid is now out to a lead of almost two minutes over the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, which is managing to stay on the lead lap but can’t make up major progress.

Shortly before the 12-hour mark, Audi’s No. 1 car suddenly slowed on course and driver Tom Kristensen was forced to limp it around and back to the pits, where the crew quickly tried to diagnose the problem.

The No. 1 eventually got back on track with Lucas di Grassi now driving, but not before multiple minutes had been lost. A tweet on the Audi Sport Twitter account listed a injector change on the car.

Leading up to halfway, the hottest battle had been contested in GTE-Pro between the No. 97 Aston Martin, No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, and No. 74 Chevrolet Corvette. But right now, the Aston Martin remains ahead of both the Ferrari and the ‘Vette.

In GTE-Am, the No. 98 Aston Martin was forced to abandon its lead and go into the garage for repairs. It eventually returned to the track but is now well off the pace; Fox Sports reported that the team had to replace the car’s power steering.

The good news for the Aston camp is that another of its Am cars, the No. 95 Vantage V8, has picked up the flag and is leading in their category.

Finally, the No. 35 OAK Racing machine with Alex Brundle in the cockpit continues to hold the point in LMP2.

6:10 p.m. ET: A touch late on this nine-hour update from Le Mans, but we held off to take into account pit stops from the race-leading No. 7 Toyota (Alex Wurz) and second-place No. 2 Audi (Marcel Fassler).

Prior to the stops, Wurz held a lead of roughly one and a half minutes to continue Toyota’s hold on the event. But after the stops, Wurz’s lead grew by an additional ten seconds. Fassler’s teammate, Marc Gene, has the No. 1 Audi in third place at one lap off the pace.

Also pitting close to 6 p.m. ET was the LMP2 class-leading No. 35 OAK Racing Ligier/Nissan (Jann Mardenborough). He continues to run ahead of the No. 36 Signatech Alpine ORECA/Nissan in that category.

Meanwhile, in GTE, Aston Martin has taken control of the lead in both the Pro and Am classes. In Pro, the No. 97 Vantage V8 of Stefan Mucke currently leads the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari and No. 74 Chevy Corvette, while in Am, the No. 98 of Pedro Lamy is ahead of the pack.

3:30 p.m. ET: Six-plus hours are in the books and after the incidents and rain that peppered the first few hours, the race is starting to settle into a rhythm.

The No. 7 Toyota retook the overall lead; a couple issues hit the No. 20 Porsche, including a puncture and a brief off at Arnage corner. Of note, Mark Webber has taken over from Hartley behind the wheel.

LMP2 has seen the No. 34 Race Performance Oreca 03 Judd the lone interloper among a quartet of Nissans (Nos. 26, 35, 36, 46, which are Oreca 03, Ligier JS P2 and Alpine A450 branded chassis).

Corvette Racing has led in GTE-Pro and Aston Martin Racing in GTE-Am.

Just now though the third safety car period is out for the No. 47 KCMG Oreca 03 Nissan, an early-race leader, at the exit of Porsche Curves.

1 p.m. ET: After falling behind the Audi and Toyota camps in the first hour, Porsche is now leading the way at the four-hour mark with its No. 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid, which is currently being driven by Brendon Hartley.

Timo Bernhard handed the No. 20 over to Hartley early in the race’s fourth hour, and Hartley cycled back to the lead when the No. 7 Toyota of Stephane Sarrazin pitted a short time later.

However, Sarrazin has begun to mount a charge and Hartley’s lead is now under a mere 10 seconds. Audi’s No. 2 R18 e-tron quattro runs third overall with Benoit Treluyer at the wheel.

A lead change in GTE-Pro has also gone down, as Tommy Milner got his No. 74 Chevrolet Corvette around the No. 91 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR of Jorg Bergmeister.

In LMP2, Michel Frey was leading right up to the end of the hour, when he chose to pit. That gave the class lead to Paul-Loup Chatin in the No. 36 Signatech Alpine ORECA.

As for GTE-Am, Christoffer Nygaard sits in front in the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8, while Patrick Dempsey currently runs second after taking over from Patrick Long in the No. 77 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

11:30 a.m. ET: We went back to green, briefly, after a 40-plus minutes safety car period. But another one has just occurred as after a brief period of sunshine, rain has returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe. An incident between two LMP2 cars (Nos. 48 and 41) and a spin by the oldest driver in the field, 65-year-old Harold Blank in the No. 62 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia on the Mulsanne, occurred.

We’re almost to the end of the three-hour mark, which will occur at noon ET.

10:30 a.m. ET: How fast can it change here? We’ve just had a sudden downpour and mass chaos at various points on the track.

Both the No. 3 Audi and No. 8 Toyota are crashed on the Mulsanne Corner and one of the AF Corse cars, the No. 81 Ferrari F458 Italia, is also involved.

We’ll sort this out as soon as the marshals and weather do so out themselves. We’re now under a safety car.

10:25 a.m. ET: The opening line of “Truth in 24” has occurred: It always rains in Le Mans. And now it is, at a couple random parts of the circuit including Tertre Rouge and briefly on pit lane. Need change? Wait a few minutes.

10:15 a.m. ET: The first hour of the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans is in the books. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Toyota leads in the No. 7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid that took the pole position. Alexander Wurz had a moment as he exited just ahead of Andre Lotterer on the first round of pit stops.

Audi’s moved up nicely with the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, driven in its first stint by Andre Lotterer. The No. 8 Toyota and No. 3 Audi were also in striking distance.

Both of the Porsches have fallen back; the No. 14 went behind the wall for nine minutes with fuel pressure issues and the No. 20 has been running two seconds off the pace all race.

Other class leaders at the one-hour mark include KCMG’s No. 47 Oreca 03 Nissan in LMP2 (Alexandre Imperatori driving), AF Corse’s No. 51 Ferrari F458 Italia in GTE-Pro (Gianmaria Bruni) and JMW Motorsport’s No. 66 Ferrari F458 Italia in GTE-Am (Seth Neiman). The latter leader took the lead during the first pit stop cycle.

The No. 0 Nissan ZEOD RC became the first official retirement, with gearbox issues.

Saavedra returns to SPM, again, for upcoming races

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Following the mutual parting of ways between Mikhail Aleshin and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the rest of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Sebastian Saavedra will once again be back in the team’s No. 7 Honda for the next two oval races at Pocono Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park.

The Colombian impressed in a surprise one-off appearance in the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Toronto, as Aleshin was sat down for one race. Saavedra ran as high as seventh and finished 11th after improving from 20th on the grid.

“I am very excited to be back with the SPM organization,” Saavedra said in a release. “It’s another late call to jump in, but I take it with pride after a promising start of our relationship in Toronto. Looking forward to a challenging event as the Tricky Triangle can be, and support (James) Hinchcliffe in his pursuit of championship points. I’m thankful to my sponsors and my continued relationship with AFS Inc.”

“Delighted to have Sebastian back with the SPM team following what was a very encouraging performance at the Toronto event,” added Piers Phillips, General Manager of SPM. “He is experienced and competent, and I have no doubt he will contribute to the overall performance of the team. We’re heading to Pocono full of confidence as a team and we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing Sebastian and James at the front of the pack.”

The likable 27-year-old driver has enjoyed longtime support from Gary Peterson of AFS Racing throughout a stop-start IndyCar career since 2010, with more than 60 career starts and just a handful of top-10 finishes.

It remains to be seen what Saavedra and Peterson put together for 2018; at Mid-Ohio, Peterson indicated he was working towards an IMSA Prototype program next year.

As for the final two road course races this year at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, SPM has not yet announced that plan.

Robert Wickens, who filled in for Aleshin temporarily on the Friday of Road America weekend, made his case on Tuesday to “stir the pot” a bit in a social media post.

The Canadian doesn’t have any DTM conflicts either weekend and would be a popular selection if he does get the call.

Two upcoming oval races provide great win chances for ECR

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ed Carpenter Racing, surprisingly, has only four races left to extend its run of winning at least one race in a Verizon IndyCar Series season to four straight years.

Mike Conway brought Carpenter two wins on the streets of Long Beach and Toronto in 2014, while Carpenter won his most recent race at Texas. Then with Josef Newgarden winning twice at Barber and Toronto in 2015, under the CFH Racing banner, before the team reverted back to ECR last year, Newgarden won again in Iowa last year in dominant, beat-down fashion.

As a team that’s been a consistent thorn in the side of the more established “big three” teams, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, Carpenter’s team has been close on a couple occasions to continuing its winning pedigree this year but come up short. Short oval races that got away from JR Hildebrand at Iowa and both Hildebrand and Carpenter at Phoenix loom large.

Still, Hildebrand is keen to note how he and new engineer Justin Taylor have meshed this year – and how this two-week break in the schedule has allowed for a full reset.

“The only thing (that’s bad) with the schedule for the series is that it’s pretty rapid fire,” Hildebrand told NBC Sports. “So sometimes it’s hard to feel like you’ve fully analyzed everything you do on a weekend, before shifting gears to the next thing. You have to look at making ‘base hits’ through the season. You don’t have time to make really dramatic changes without the time between races.

“It’s definitely been fast paced just across the board. You’re going from a couple races and testing to being back in the saddle, full blast is an adjustment. Overall it’s a really good group of guys we have. It’s been fun working with Justin. He’s done a good job, and that makes all the little differences.”

Hildebrand lamented the late-race loss at Iowa; he got balked a bit in traffic but was still happy to finish second, particularly after an accident in practice that forced the ECR team to need to make repairs to his primary No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

“It was obviously frustrating to have a situation like that. The race was so much different from that perspective. That more than anything I what’s irritating. Something like that wouldn’t have happened a year ago with the tire being a little different, track temps being under control,” Hildebrand explained about the changes in temperatures and Firestone’s year-on-year tire difference.

“At the end of the day – particularly given the season we’ve had with the ups and downs – so for me I can kind of look at that and feel some relief we executed at a high level all weekend,” he said. “The Iowa weekend was not super easy with the change in tire; we knew from the test day that the car was different, so we working so hard to find the bit of magic from the previous year. The way it all worked out, I felt like that we got as much out of it as we could.

“We could have won that race. But we came back from an accident in practice to get to the outside front row. I’ll end up looking back at that and felt, ‘Well that could have been my first IndyCar win,’ but over the course of the midst of the season, I felt good about bringing it home on podium. We know that we’ve had cars that are good circumstances play out over time.”

While Pocono could play to ECR’s benefit – Carpenter qualified second and Hildebrand sixth at the Indianapolis 500 before falling back to unrepresentative finishes – it’s Gateway where the team also looks to break through considering its short oval prowess this season.

Said Hildebrand, “St. Louis should be good; we’ve been at our best from a competitiveness standpoint at short ovals. Again it’s a bit of an unknown, in terms of what to expect from the new surface. But with the track grip coming up and us as good as we were at Phoenix, that should bode well.”

Carpenter, who’s finished 12th or better in each of his four starts this season, now has his first and only chance to race consecutive events all season.

“I have always really enjoyed racing an Indy car at Pocono,” Carpenter said heading into the weekend. “It’s such a challenging track that requires a lot of work to get the right setup on the car. While we’ve had good cars there in the past, good results have eluded us. It’s my second-to-last race of the year, so I’m hopeful we can get the finish we have been working towards!”

Newgarden was fourth at Pocono last year; Carpenter’s best finish at Pocono is ninth in 2013 while Hildebrand makes his first Pocono start this weekend.

Dane Cameron’s ‘Penske perfect’ arrival comes at just right time

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

A friendly exchange with Dane Cameron yesterday in the immediate aftermath of his confirmation for the Team Penske and Acura Motorsports sports car program centered on the fact that somehow, he’s still only 28 years old.

This seems hard to believe considering all that Cameron has accomplished in the North American sports car landscape, but yet still hasn’t quite received the major notoriety within the national racing consciousness beyond the hardcore followers of the sport.

Cameron could well have been an open-wheel star but like many others in the mid-to-late 2000s, was a victim of terrible timing. After cleaning up in the 2007 Star Mazda championship (now Pro Mazda) with JDC Motorsports, Cameron’s reward was graduating into Formula Atlantic in 2008… the same year Champ Car folded and its assets were absorbed by INDYCAR.

Nonetheless Cameron, the son of longtime winning racing engineer Rick Cameron, was always high on speed and potential and showed it in a variety of sports car outings over the years to come.

He raced primarily the screaming, rotary-powered Mazda RX-8s in GRAND-AM, then raced a variety of prototypes in the following years before landing his first major drive within the merged sports car championship, at Turner Motorsport in 2014 with a BMW Z4 GT3 – and promptly won the GT Daytona class title.

A move to Action Express Racing was the next step in his career growth, joining the established Daytona Prototype championship-winning outfit with Eric Curran and Whelen Engineering in the team’s second car. That team took time to grow but still won quickly and contended for the title in its first year, prior to breaking through and winning last year’s title.

Cameron’s 2017 season has been an exercise in frustration as the landscape of the merged IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has changed. Expected to defend the title, Cameron and Curran have instead struggled for the same level of metronomic consistency of the last two years and Cameron, who’s still blindingly quick, has often been playing catchup in the more aero dependent Cadillac as the Action Express team has worked to understand the baseline Dallara chassis that lies underneath the Cadillac DPi bodywork. Coming from a period of success with Coyote, that chassis change for the team shouldn’t be overlooked.

Arguably the flashpoint of Cameron’s 2017 campaign came early on at Long Beach, with a rare unforced error trying to close the gap after going in too deep into the tight, tricky 90-degree right-hander. It wrote off a car and forced the team into a scramble drill prior to the next round at Circuit of The Americas.

Just three races into the season, it also left Cameron and Curran 26 points back of the Taylor brothers – a near insurmountable gap to overcome over seven races given IMSA’s points system makes it difficult to gain more than a handful of points per race. As it sits now, they’re 31 points back, five races later and with only two more to go.

Was a change of scenery inevitable for Cameron? Given the timing and opportunity available here, Cameron was always a natural fit. Although the Cameron/Curran pairing won last year’s title, few seasoned paddock observers will have rated it as the top one on the grid.

Much like Josef Newgarden in IndyCar or Ryan Blaney in NASCAR, Cameron is that 2017 type of “Penske perfect” type of driver – still under 30, with a lot of his future ahead of him, but enough experience built up to add his name to the Penske file now.

He’s business-first, with the clean-cut look, who is all business on the track but does have a sneaky sense of humor beneath the surface. Cameron, who’s married to wife Sarah and has two kids, chooses his words carefully; brevity is one of his skill sets, as he’s always careful of what he says and how he says it. He already lives in North Carolina, so that means he’s already close to the shop.

One of the cool things Penske can provide is a cross-promotional platform between its other series. And sure, you don’t expect to see Cameron racing in NASCAR, IndyCar or V8 Supercars anytime soon – though he’d probably excel in any opportunity if given the chance with the variety of cars he’s already raced – but the brand exposure for him can get built up here in the years to come, especially as he’s paired with a known name in teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who was winning titles in the 1990s when Cameron had only just reached double digits in age. Add him to the “Penske Games” social media video series next year, and it’ll be interesting to see what side of his personality emerges.

For Cameron, while this deal appears to have come together quickly even though as rumors of his name being with Penske have percolated for months, the timing still seems just right.

“It’s all really come together pretty quickly in the last couple days really, to be honest, to get it done,” he said. “That being said, I really only signed the contract last night (Monday). It’s kind of escalated pretty quickly.

“I’m really excited about a tremendous opportunity to represent Acura and to work with everyone here at Team Penske. I haven’t seen much yet so far, but been getting around, shaking a couple hands, been really impressed so far.  Quite excited with what lies ahead.”

Cameron’s experience with Action Express these last three years will be key for Penske, Acura and Montoya to draw upon for 2018. For Cameron, having the stability of a long-term home there was key after the aforementioned five years between 2009 and 2013 when he raced a number of different series and cars but rarely stayed with the same team and/or in the same car for more than two consecutive years.

“It’s been a terrifically successful three‑year stretch, to win a bunch of races, to win a title. I really enjoyed myself there, and I really want to thank everyone at Actions Express and Whelen Engineering for not only the opportunity to go there in the first place, but then for great cars and teams and great results,” he said.

“It wasn’t an easy decision at all to come to this point. It’s been a good home for me there. Yeah, it was not easy, but an opportunity to work closely with Acura and to join Team Penske was a little too good for me to pass up.

“I’m looking forward to the future, but also remaining focused and committed to having a strong couple races here to close out the current IMSA season.”

The testing for Cameron will begin shortly after Motul Petit Le Mans, Oct. 5-7, when he enters officially into the Acura ARX-05 – which by that point, Montoya will have put through its paces. It will be a busy build-up period over the winter before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but Cameron will be key to getting the car to the starting line, then excelling once 2018 hits.

“It will be fun to be a part of the early stages of the program and try to contribute as best I can,” he said

“Obviously, Team Penske is what it is because of the people that are in place, as well as Acura and the engine that’s going to be part of the program. I think it’s pretty well‑sorted.

“I don’t think anyone who is involved with this program is doing it for any other reason except to win races and championships and pole positions.  I think as a driver you always have that expectation for yourself.

“I don’t think anyone expects more out of ourselves than Juan and I will. I don’t see any reason why we can’t come out of the gate strong at Daytona.”

Bourdais cleared to drive; return date still TBA

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sebastien Bourdais was in Indianapolis on Tuesday and for good reason – not even three months after his devastating accident in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, he received medical clearance that he is cleared to return to racing action.

Bourdais posted late Tuesday night he’d had his final appointment with his doctor and has been cleared to return to action. He’d targeted mid-August as the date to get this clearance, and this lives up to that target. He sustained pelvic and hip fractures in the accident in qualifying.

The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team welcomed Bourdais back to the Indianapolis shop on Woodland Drive on Tuesday, in anticipation for what would be Bourdais’ return to sports car competition at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, Motul Petit Le Mans, Oct. 5-7.

As for his day job, back in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, the team is yet to reveal when Bourdais will be back racing. Bourdais has set Watkins Glen as a target on Labor Day weekend, following the next two races on ovals at Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Gateway Motorsports Park.

Provided the Coyne team can get through these two oval races cleanly with the rookie pair of Esteban Gutierrez and Ed Jones, that would increase the likelihood of a Bourdais return at Watkins Glen.

Bourdais tested at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the Monday after that race, which was a huge step towards his formal comeback. He spoke to NBCSN contributor Robin Miller during the Honda Indy 200 race telecast.