Photo courtesy of IMSA

Petit Le Mans eclipses halfway mark in eventful race thus far

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BRASELTON, Ga. – The 20th annual Motul Petit Le Mans has eclipsed the five-hour mark, with seven full-course cautions thus far and a roller coaster race in three of the four classes.

At the five-hour mark, Dane Cameron leads overall in his final start in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, before he moves to Team Penske. The race is through 197 laps and Cameron holds a 1.341-second lead over Filipe Albuquerque, his teammate at Action Express Racing in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, who will be one of two new full-season drivers there next year.

Other class leaders include Kyle Masson (No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09, PC), Giancarlo Fisichella (No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, GTLM) and Mark Wilkins (No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, GTD).

Before the halfway mark, the first points in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup were awarded at Hour 4 (full results by class and overall here) And the top three in those classes were:

  • P: 1-22-Nissan Onroak DPi, 2-5-Cadillac DPi-V.R, 3-90-Ligier JS P217 Gibson
  • PC: 1-38-Performance Tech, 2-20-BAR1, 3-26-BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-25-BMW M6 GTLM, 2-911-Porsche 911 RSR, 3-912-Porsche 911 RSR
  • GTD: 1-93-Acura NSX GT3, 2-96-BMW M6 GT3, 3-33-Mercedes-AMG GT3

Other hourly results are linked here: Official Grid, Hour 1, Hour 2, Hour 3

Here’s some notes thus far:

PENSKE’S FIRST HOUR INCIDENT, RECOVERY

We broke this out separately, but the race for the No. 6 Team Penske Oreca 07 Gibson – which started on pole – was compromised almost from the start once Matteo Cressoni lost control of his No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 and pitched Helio Castroneves into a spin at Turn 10, and caused his car rear bodywork damage.

“Well, no. Obviously I’m not happy with it,” Castroneves said. “We got a good welcome to the sports car series but you know, we’re learning. I definitely expect the pace. The car changed a little bit from what we had in practice, I’m not sure what it is. It was much looser than I was expecting. I certainly was finally able to run with some DPi’s together. It was very difficult, to learn to deal with traffic is going to be a long learning curve, for sure.”

In the third hour of the race, during a full-course caution, the car stayed out to take a wave-by and get back on the lead lap. Into the fifth hour, Juan Pablo Montoya has taken the wheel of the car and sits third, only two seconds off the overall lead held by Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi and with Filipe Albquerque second in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

That lead for the Nissan was short-lived following a storming series of laps from Gustavo Menezes, an LMP2 race winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and in his first start in the festively liveried No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson.

TITLES CLINCHED

Fortunately for the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R and No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 teams in Prototype and GT Daytona, they’ve clinched the titles by taking the green flag. Because neither car’s race went according to plan.

Cressoni, as noted, had damage from his incident with Castroneves in the first hour, which has left Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan playing catch-up the rest of the day and outside the top-10 in class. In the fifth hour, the car slowed on the backstraight and brought out the seventh full-course caution of the race. IMSA Radio reported in the car had a broken axle.

Meanwhile the day ended early for the Taylor group when Ryan Hunter-Reay, the third driver with brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, reported in a loss of power on Lap 98 on just his third lap in the car. It’s the team’s first major mechanical failure since the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012!

“I’m not really sure what happened. It sounds like some kind of technical call in the engine. We had to park the car and pull from the race,” said team owner Wayne Taylor.

The same story – taking the green to take the championship – applied to Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in GT Le Mans in their No. 3 Corvette C7.R.

A PIT FIRE AND AN AERIAL ATTACK

Two scary moments happened back-to-back in Hour 2. Gianmaria Bruni’s No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR sustained a fire in pit lane. He exited the car and a Porsche GT Team crewmember was fortunately uninjured in the conflagration, returning to action in a new suit.

Jose Gutierrez was also checked, cleared and released following his No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson going airborne at Turn 5. The car was mounted vertically after going into the tire barriers and scaling them.

OTHER NOTES

  • Most IndyCar drivers entered in the race got the chance to drive by Hour 5. Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais got in the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs, while by this point in the race all three of the Team Penske drivers had cycled through its car and Hunter-Reay was in the No. 10 Cadillac. NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who told us he’d lost a dozen pounds in training for this race, has also regularly been in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS as that car’s lead pro driver.
  • Contact occurred between Scott Sharp’s No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi and Chris Miller’s No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, Miller tagging the back of Sharp’s car going into Turn 10 and receiving a penalty afterwards for triggering avoidable contact.
  • Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette C7.R got tagged by one of the Ford GTs in the Esses but recovered.
  • Three cars – the No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Ozz Negri), No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Kenny Habul) and No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Austin Cindric) – have hit trackside signage, the first two WeatherTech barriers and then Cindric a Michelin barrier exiting Turn 12. Cindric was trying to make way for the Penske Oreca to lap him on the inside.
  • The No. 86 Acura lost time with its splitter getting replaced, continuing the luckless season for Negri, Jeff Segal and Tom Dyer, now in a gold and black livery signed by fans this weekend, per a Shank tradition continuing.
  • The No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, in that car’s last race, lost 10 laps behind the wall with power steering issues. John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk won’t be able to follow-up its win last race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, now co-driving with Nicky Catsburg.
  • A rear suspension issue halted Lawson Aschenbach in the final race for Stevenson Motorsports, in the No. 57 Audi R8 LMS.
  • What had been a contending car in GTD, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, went behind the wall in the fifth hour. Jens Klingmann, Jesse Krohn and Justin Marks share that car. Per IMSA Radio, a bad turbo sensor sent them behind the barriers.
  • A nightmare weekend for WeatherTech Racing with its No. 50 Porsche 911 GT3 R came to an early end with a gearbox issue. “We lost a QD system, which is a quick disconnect on the water system,” Greg Jones, WeatherTeam Racing Team engineer said. “This system actually cools the gearbox. The QD failed and we have a restriction to the water flow to the gearbox. Therefore, overheating it. If we had continued, it would have blown the gearbox up. It wouldn’t have been good. This is a tough way to go out.”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.