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Le Mans: No. 7 Toyota drops out with clutch problems

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The No. 7 Toyota TS050, in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, and Stéphane Sarrazin, and the dominant overall race leader through the first ten hours of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, has fallen out of the race following apparent mechanical troubles.

Shortly after a safety car period for a spinning Olivier Pla in the No. 66 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK, the No. 7 machine, with Kobayashi at the wheel, was unable to accelerate back to race speed, suffering a clutch failure that became immediately apparent when green flag racing resumed.

Kobayashi was heard on the radio saying repeatedly “I cannot move” as he attempted to nurse the car around the 8.469-mile circuit on hybrid power, only for it to coast to a halt shortly before the Porsche curves.

A dejected Kobayashi exited the car and returned to the pits, where shortly thereafter the garage door was shut, signifying a retirement.

The Nos. 8 and 9 have also encountered problems of their own. The No. 8 went to the garage with mechanical problems a couple hours earlier, specifically with the front motor, but return to the race and currently runs third in the LMP1 class, 27 laps off the lead.

Meanwhile, the No. 9 fell out shortly thereafter following contact with the No. 25 CEFC Manor TRS Team China Oreca 07 Gibson. The contact punctured the No. 9’s left-rear tire and sent it into a spin, and while driver Nicolas Lapierre tried to nurse the machine back to the pits, the car suffered irreparable damage, highlighted by a small fire at the rear of the machine, which forced Lapierre to use hybrid power only to try and limp back around.

However, Lapierre eventually stopped on track, unable to return to the pits. The garage of the No. 9 entry then shuttered, signaling a second retirement for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

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Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.