Patrick Dempsey

Le Mans: GTE Key News and Notes

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As the battle between the production titans raged on at the front of the field throughout the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the race to win the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes was also very hotly contested.

Ultimately, the win in GTE Pro went to Ferrari’s AF Corse team with the No. 51 car, piloted by Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander. However, the two lap margin of victory was rather generous following a supreme fight through the night between the No. 51, the No. 97 Aston Martin Racing car, and the No. 74 Chevrolet Corvette, with just three seconds separating the top three at points.

The AF Corse team managed to stay out of trouble, though, and led home the No. 73 Chevrolet Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. Last year’s class winner, the No. 92 Porsche Team Manthey car, completed the GTE Pro podium. Ferrari F1 driver and this year’s race starter Fernando Alonso took to Twitter to send his congratulations to the AF Corse drivers.

For Aston Martin, it was another difficult race at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The No. 97 was in the mix to claim class victory after Bruno Senna put in a superb overnight stint to lead ahead of Vilander and Tom Milner in the No. 74, with the latter eventually being classified in fourth place in class. Eventually, Aston Martin came unstuck again due to a loose steering pipe. Senna made his frustration clear on Twitter, but vowed to return in 2015 for a third shot at endurance glory.

In the GTE Am class, it was an emotional victory for the No. 95 Aston Martin Racing car. The all-Danish troupe of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier-Hansson and Nicki Thiim dominated proceedings to win just a year after their teammate, Allan Simonsen, died on lap two of the race. A late technical scare on the car threatened to hand the win to Porsche, but the team soon fixed the issue and brought the car home.

Patrick Dempsey’s third attempt at Le Mans did not go entirely to plan. The Grey’s Anatomy star put in a solid performance behind the wheel, but after setting his sights on a podium finish in the GTE Am class, fifth place will have come as a bitter disappointment for his No. 77 Porsche team and co-pilots Joe Foster and Patrick Long.

On the same weekend as the World Cup began, a former winner was trying his hand in the most famous motor race. Fabien Barthez played an instrumental part in France’s victory at the 1998 tournament, playing in goal, but was forced to settle for ninth place on his debut at Le Mans in the No. 58 Team Sofrev car alongside Anthony Pons and Soheil Ayari.

An honorable mention has to go to the No. 79 Prospeed Competition car, which was fored to switch to GTE Pro at the last minute due to the withdrawal of its bronze-rated driver. Despite only having two drivers, the car ran well to finish fifth in class with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil sharing duties behind the wheel.

Backing up its class victory in GTE Pro, AF Corse secured a podium finish in GTE Am with the No. 61 car finishing third behind the No. 88 Proton Competition Porsche.

However, the early leader in the GTE Am class for AF Corse, the No. 81 car of Sam Bird, Stephen Wyatt and Michele Rugolo, got caught up in the incident between the No. 3 Audi and the No. 8 Toyota during the first rain shower on Saturday afternoon.

Just as it was a classic race at the front of the field in the LMP1 class, the GTEs certainly put on a show. The three GTE Pro cars dancing in the dark down the Mulsanne straight will remain as one of the greatest sights from this year’s race, and for the Danes in the No. 95 Aston Martin, this might just be the sweetest victory of all.

The FIA World Endurance Championship now begins its summer break, with the next round taking place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin on the 20th September.

Alonso targeting ‘decent points’ in Monaco from P9 on grid

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso believes that “decent points” are within his reach in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix from ninth place on the grid.

Alonso reached Q3 for just the second time this season in Monaco, qualifying 10th overall for McLaren.

The Spaniard will gain a position for the start of the race by virtue of Kimi Raikkonen’s grid penalty, giving him a good chance to add to the points he scored in Russia earlier this month.

“We had a little bit of stress with the red-flag stoppage in Q1: we only had six minutes left and I hadn’t set a time,” Alonso explained.

“Our main goal today was to get into Q3, but I still don’t really feel confident with the car – I didn’t have a perfect feeling with it, and I wasn’t therefore confident enough to really attack the corners.

“Our predictions ahead of this weekend were maybe a little over-optimistic, but let’s see what happens tomorrow.

“We’ll need some rain, snow or whatever to give the race a little bit of action – the start will dictate the complexion of the race, but hopefully the weather will make the show more exciting.

“It would be great to come out of the weekend with some decent points.”

Teammate Jenson Button was unable to make it through to the final stage of qualifying, finishing 13th in Q2 in the second McLaren MP4-31 car.

“My lap in Q1 felt okay, then the balance went away from me as the circuit gripped up,” Button explained.

“On my final run in Q2 I had front-locking into Turn 3, locked the front-left and overheated the tire, which meant I lost front-end grip after that.

“Still, this is Monaco, and anything can happen. The first corner is usually eventful; then, after that, it’s about sitting behind the guy in front.

“You can try and dive down the inside of another car into Turn 10, but that’s a no-go for us because we’re too far back by the time we get to that part of the track.

“So, as I say, I’ll be hoping for rain tomorrow.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

VIDEO: Ride onboard with Ricciardo on his Monaco pole lap

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Daniel Ricciardo’s charge to pole position in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix came as a surprise to many in the Formula 1 paddock as Mercedes’ streak of pole positions came to an end.

It was just the third time since the start of the V6 turbo era – 44 races ago – that either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg did not claim pole position, and arguably just the second where Mercedes had been simply outpaced.

Ricciardo enjoyed an edge during practice before producing a stunning lap of 1:13.622 in Q3 to score his first pole position in F1.

In the video above, you can ride onboard with Ricciardo as he tames the fearsome Monaco street circuit, overcoming one of the biggest challenges in racing.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Verstappen to start from back row in Monaco after qualifying crash

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Two weeks on from his shock maiden Formula 1 victory in the Spain, Max Verstappen came back down to earth with a bump in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix after a crash resigned him to the back row of the grid.

Verstappen clipped the inside of the wall at the Swimming Pool chicane, breaking his front axle and sending him straight into the barrier at the exit of the corner.

The Dutchman walked away from the incident unharmed, but having not set a time in the session, he was classified in 21st place.

Speaking to NBCSN after the session, Verstappen admitted that the crash was down to driver error despite not pushing as hard as he could have.

“I was was not pushing to the limit,” Verstappen said.

“I just turned in too early. If you’re pushing to limit, normally you would go off track or miss the corner. I just in turned early.”

Wet weather is forecast for Sunday’s race, but Verstappen still feels that it will be difficult for him to salvage anything from the weekend after this error.

“Hopefully it will help a bit, but obviously on this track it will be very difficult to overtake.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo stormed to his first F1 pole in qualifying, leaving the team with two very different races to manage on Sunday.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

Hamilton escapes engine scare to qualify third for Monaco GP

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Lewis Hamilton escaped an engine scare early in Q3 to qualify third for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Hamilton arrived in Monaco hopeful of kick-starting his championship bid and ending his poor run of form in the principality, having won there just once in Formula 1.

The Briton appeared to be in the fight for pole heading into the final stage of qualifying, only to report a loss of power on his Mercedes car in the pit lane.

While the rest of the drivers streamed out onto the track, Hamilton was wheeled back to his garage so the team could set to work on fixing the issue.

Mercedes confirmed to the media that Hamilton had suffered a fuel pressure issue that prompted the team to stop his car in the pit lane. Teammate Nico Rosberg had a similar problem that delayed his first run in Q3.

Hamilton made his one flying lap count to finish third in Q3 behind pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo and Rosberg, but felt pole was for the taking had it not been for the issue.

“It was a difficult qualifying, I don’t really know what to say at the moment,” Hamilton said.

“The good thing is that I did get out to do a lap at least, it wasn’t as bad as some races have been in that respect with the engine problems.

“I’m grateful to be up in third. Pole was there for the taking I think, but nevertheless I’ll do what I can in the race to salvage what I can from today’s result.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.