Photo: Toyota

Toyota, unsurprisingly, on provisional pole at Le Mans

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With the pace advantage showcased in the Le Mans Test Day, it was no surprise to see the Toyota TS050 Hybrid top the timesheets in provisional qualifying for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi posted the quickest time of the first qualifying session overall and in LMP1 at 3:18.793 in the No. 7 car he’ll share this race with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin.

The No. 8 Toyota was next up at a 3:19.431, with the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid at least within one second in third at 3:19.710.

TDS Racing made it through to the provisional top spot in LMP2 with the No. 28 Oreca 07 Gibson in the hands of Mathieu Vaxviere, who shares the car with Emmanuel Collard and Francois Perrodo.

Vaxviere’s top time of 3:29.333 blitzes the prior LMP2 track record of 3:32.301 set by Jos Verstappen in a Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder set in 2008, and again, comes as expected with the intense top speeds turned in by the new powerplant.

The top 12 cars in class are either the Oreca 07 or the rebadged Alpine A470, continuing that chassis manufacturer’s dominance. It comes to 13th place before the first other chassis appears, the No. 29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217 at a best time of 3:33.796, in the hands of Le Mans debutante Rubens Barrichello with co-drivers Jan Lammers and Fritz van Eerd.

Aston Martin Racing has the provisional GTE-Pro pole, perhaps not the manufacturer you’d choose off hand, with the No. 95 Vantage of Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Richie Stanaway in at 3:52.117 ahead of the two AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTEs and the second factory GTE-Pro Aston Martin.

The best Ford (No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK) is fifth at a 3:54.118, the best Porsche (No. 92 Porsche GT Team) sixth at a 3:54.243 and the best Corvette (No. 63) ninth at a 3:54.827.

Aston also tops the GTE-Am provisional pole charts with the factory No. 98 car of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana in at 3:55.134.

Of note, the four Verizon IndyCar Series drivers active since 2016 (including NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell) are provisionally here:

  • Tony Kanaan, 11th GTE-Pro, No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT, 3:55.059
  • Scott Dixon, 12th GTE-Pro, No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT, 3:55.553
  • Mikhail Aleshin, 16th LMP2, No. 27 SMP Racing Dallara P217 Gibson, 3:34.407
  • Townsend Bell, 9th GTE-Am, No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE, 3:57.267

Aleshin’s car reportedly stopped on track with a fire, one of several LMP2 cars to have had mechanical issues this session.

There are four more hours of qualifying tomorrow.

Provisional results are below.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”