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.

Sauber driver Ericsson dismisses talk of favoritism in team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson has dismissed talk of favoritism within Sauber following the unexpected departure of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn.

Kaltenborn, who was also Sauber’s chief executive officer, left Wednesday by mutual consent. The news came shortly after another team statement denying reports of unfair treatment between the Swedish driver and German teammate Pascal Wehrlein.

“There were a lot of stories in the press about this unfair advantage for one driver. It was upsetting, disrespectful, it’s false and untrue,” Ericsson said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. “For me and Pascal, it’s been very clear that’s not the case. We’ve both been given equal equipment.”

Ericsson has yet to score a point after seven races, while Wehrlein has four points after an eighth-place finish at the Spanish GP in May.

“We’re not going to go on holiday together, but as teammates goes we’ve been working really good together so far,” Ericsson said. “When we try different things across the cars, we discuss things.”

Sauber’s statement said Kaltenborn left “due to diverging views of the future of the company.” Her successor has not been announced.

The 46-year-old Kaltenborn joined Sauber in 2000 as head of its legal department and later became chief executive officer.

“We have to trust the owners that they know what they’re doing, and that they have a good plan for the future,” Ericsson said. “I have a lot to thank Monisha for. She was the one who gave me the chance to come here after my year in Caterham.”

Wehrlein also praised Kaltenborn for standing by him. He missed the first two races of the season after injuring his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

“Monisha was very close to me at one of my toughest times in my career so far,” Wehrlein said. “I am very thankful for that, and this is something that I will never forget.”

Indy Lights: Leist rides wave of momentum heading to Road America

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

As the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires resumes action at Road America this weekend, perhaps its hottest driver is 19-year-old Brazilian native Matheus Leist.

The Carlin driver enters Road America off a strong month of May, in which he captured both his first podium finish (third, Race 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course) and his first career pole and win (Freedom 100) in Indy Lights.

“I think we are working very hard this year, so the hard work’s paying off,” Leist told NBC Sports following his Freedom 100 triumph. “We did a great race at the (Grand Prix), I managed to finish third: my first podium. And now, I did my first pole position, with a track record, and won my first race, and the most important race in the championship. It was definitely a great month for me.”

Despite his youth and lack of experience, Leist managed to keep all challengers at bay in what was a dominating victory. And the race became all the more challenging when he faced an early restart after contact between Colton Herta, Dalton Kellett, and Ryan Norman, and a full slate of challengers were ready to slipstream by Leist if he made even the smallest of mistakes on the subsequent restart.

However, as he detailed, thwarting off challengers was made possible because the team prepared a car with a lot of speed in it, which allowed them to trim a little more downforce off the car to help with straight line speed, especially useful on restarts.

“I knew we had a great car, so we went in the race with less downforce than the other guys, which helped me to stay in front. After like 10 laps, I was thinking ‘I can definitely win this race from here,’” he asserted.

The success has seen those in the IndyCar ranks take notice of the 19-year-old. He was acknowledged during the public driver’s meeting for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and was featured in the parade held the day before the 500-mile classic. The success and acknowledgment from those at the highest level is somewhat overwhelming for the 19-year-old.

“Very grateful for everything that’s happening with me. I think this is one of the most important moments of my life. I just won a race in Indianapolis, such a big and great place, and important place. It’s been an amazing time with the drivers (congratulating me). I had a great time at the parade as well, so it was very nice,” he added.

Even better, he had his first test day in an IndyCar last week at Road America, taking over the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda usually driven by Alexander Rossi.

“The braking point here is crazy. It’s the fastest car that I’ve ever driven. The high speed corners, there’s a few corners where it’s almost flat in Indy Lights and here with more power, more downforce, it’s easy flat!” he said.

A champion of the 2016 BRDC British F3 Championship, Leist remains new to the American racing scene. But, as he explained, the influence of a couple heroes, chiefly Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan, has helped him transition.

“I have quite a bit of contact with Rubens. I used to have dinner with him. He’s a very nice guy with me, he’s always helping me. I know Tony as well, we raced in Brazil last year together in a go-kart race. He’s a guy, as well, who said whenever I want, I can ask him to help.”

And, while he admits Formula 1 was his original focus, Leist is happy to pursue a career in the United States with the Verizon IndyCar Series. “My first goal was Formula 1, but now I’m thinking more about becoming a professional driver than a Formula 1 driver, that’s why I came to IndyCar,” he finished.

Leist sits sixth in the Indy Lights championship, but only trails points leader Kyle Kaiser by 30 points as the series heads to Road America.

Tony DiZinno contributed to this report

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Despite recent win, Hamilton says Ferrari still favorite

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Despite his recent win at the Canadian Grand Prix, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton still considers Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel to be the Formula One favorite.

Hamilton’s win in Montreal came after a terrible weekend in Monaco, underlining how unpredictable Mercedes has been after three years of dominance.

“Consistency is the key to winning the championship,” Hamilton said Thursday at a news conference. “Up until now, Sebastian has had the consistency of a winning championship, so we have to improve on our consistency if we are going to have a shot at winning this title.”

Victory at this weekend’s Azerbaijan GP would give Hamilton back-to-back wins – and would be a further boost after cutting Vettel’s overall lead to 12 points with his Canada GP win two weeks ago.

But he remains circumspect as to whether Mercedes has truly turned the corner.

“(Ferrari) have had a more consistent season so far. We’ve had more of an up-and-down season,” Hamilton said. “I think they (Ferrari) still are favorites in terms of the fact their car seems to work everywhere. But I think there’s more unlocked potential in our car.”

Hamilton believes the Belgian GP in late August will show whether Mercedes can release that potential, and topple Ferrari in the title fight.

“I’m hoping by August, coming into September, by then we are the favorites,” said Hamilton, who is chasing a fourth F1 title.

Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s new teammate and the only other driver to win a race, is in third place and trails Vettel by 48 points. Whether or not Bottas can become a title contender remains to be seen, however. Most observers conclude that Hamilton undoubtedly holds No. 1 status at Mercedes.

“Lewis is in the best place I have seen him during any of the last five years since he joined the team,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “He is coping so well with the difficult days. This is what the very best are made of.”

Vettel, who is gunning for a fifth F1 title, also appears to be No. 1 at Ferrari ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

Ferrari has been more reliable and might even be slightly faster than Mercedes. That bodes well considering that the 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) Baku circuit, which glides through the city’s medieval walls and passes the Caspian sea, has F1’s fastest top speed of 370 kph (230 mph).

Ferrari is chasing its first drivers’ title since Raikkonen in 2007 and its first constructors’ title since 2008.

Although Ferrari missed out on a podium place in Montreal, with Vettel finishing fourth, there was some bad luck because his car was damaged by Max Verstappen’s Red Bull heading into the first corner.

It would have been more worrying for Ferrari had Vettel finished fourth in a straight, trouble-free contest with Hamilton. Encouragingly for Ferrari, the way Vettel cut through the field following his early trouble showed the German driver is back to his very best.

Vettel’s previous title came in 2013, the last of four straight with the once-dominant Red Bull, and there are clearly shades of the confident Vettel of old this season.

Verstappen, tipped to be F1’s next big star, needs a strong performance in Baku.

Last year, the 19-year-old Dutch driver became the youngest F1 driver to win a race and to qualify on the front row. But he has secured only one podium and failed to finish three races so far this season.

Worse still is the misery two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso is enduring at McLaren.

Although still widely considered the equal of Hamilton – and slightly ahead of Vettel – on pure ability, Alonso has not won since the Spanish GP in May 2013.

He can hardly even finish a race these days, such is the unreliability of McLaren’s Honda engine.

McLaren is the only team yet to score a point. Between them, Alonso and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne have completed only four races, with a best finish of 12th by Alonso.

Considering how demanding the Baku circuit is on engines, it promises to be another frustrating weekend for Honda amid growing rumors McLaren is considering a new engine supplier deal with Mercedes. An embarrassing but realistic possibility for beleaguered Honda.

“Like Canada, we don’t have very high hopes,” Vandoorne said Thursday.

Wolff: Bottas in ‘uncomfortable situation’ waiting on F1 future

Getty Images
1 Comment

GENEVA, Switzerland – Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says he can appreciate that Valtteri Bottas is in an “uncomfortable situation” as he waits to hear about his future with the team beyond the end of the 2017 season.

Bottas joined Mercedes from Williams for 2017 following Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to retire after winning the F1 drivers’ title last November, freeing up a seat alongside Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas was signed on an initial one-year deal by Mercedes, and has impressed through his first seven races with the team, scoring his maiden victory in Russia at the end of April.

The Finn has proven popular among the team members at Brackley, as well as helping to ease some of the tension that emerged through the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry.

Mercedes is still yet to decide on whether Bottas will continue for 2018, though, with high-profile drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both out of contract and up for grabs.

“Of course it’s an uncomfortable situation for him with quite some pressure,” Wolff said during the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva earlier this week.

“When we decided to make Valtteri the offer, he knew that we would be taking our time for the decision going forward because the driver market is more open in 2018 and beyond, 2018 and 2019, and he knew that.

“So that’s why we will not rush into a decision, but continue to work with him and see how that pans out. But generally the view of the team is that he’s done a good job.”

When asked if Bottas’ gamble to move to Mercedes from Williams could backfire and leave him without a seat next year, Wolff said: “He has taken a decision to leave Williams and join Mercedes in a one-year deal.

“I think that the perception of him as a racing driver has gained. He’s won a race rather than lost, so I think it already paid off.”