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Le Mans updates: Crash delays qualifying; Conway to top; di Grassi out

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A crash for Erik Maris in the No. 33 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier JS P217 Gibson has halted the second of three qualifying sessions for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, but not before the overall and LMP2 provisional pole times have improved.

Maris’ crash has required extensive repairs to the ARMCO barrier; it will delay track activity until at least 8:15 p.m. local time at the Circuit de la Sarthe (2:15 p.m. ET). Maris got out of the car under his own power and is going through medical checks.

The session is due to run until 9 p.m. local time although may be extended into the one-hour break between this second session and the third and final qualifying session, which runs from 10 p.m. to midnight. Wednesday’s first qualifying session was delayed 20 minutes at the start and ran for only an hour and 40 minutes.

Before the accident, Mike Conway improved upon teammate Kamui Kobayashi’s best time set Wednesday night in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. The Englishman posted a best time of 3:18.651, a tenth and a half up on the 3:18.793 time, which now stands as the provisional pole in the car these two drivers share with Stephane Sarrazin.

While the No. 7 car improved its time, the No. 8 car has had a precautionary engine change.

The LMP2 mark however was lowered significantly. Thomas Laurent took the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 Gibson to a blistering lap of 3:26.776 in the car he shares with ex-Audi man and now ‘Bentley Boy’ Oliver Jarvis and Ho-Pin Tung. Wednesday’s provisional pole time was set by fellow Frenchman Mathieu Vaxviere in the No. 28 TDS Racing Oreca of 3:29.333.

Neither of the GTE provisional pole times have changed compared to Wednesday; Aston Martin Racing still holds the top spot in GTE-Pro and GTE-Am.

DI GRASSI OUT OF ACTION

There is one key GTE change though and it has nothing to do with the timesheets.

Lucas di Grassi is out of this year’s Le Mans with a broken fibula which requires surgery. It will bring Italian veteran Michele Rugolo into the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE alongside James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi.

Di Grassi, who races full-time in the FIA Formula E Championship with ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, posted a series of tweets for updates.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.