24 Hours of Le Mans

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Dilemma of how to fill Bourdais’ post-Indy, Le Mans seats now exists

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INDIANAPOLIS – The awkward but inevitable next step that came Sunday, after Saturday’s accident in qualifying for Sebastien Bourdais, is how do the two teams he drives for move forward with filling their seats in the Verizon IndyCar Series and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

With multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip, Bourdais’ recovery time is expected to be at least a couple months, and that presents unintended opportunities at Dale Coyne Racing and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in the weeks and months to come.

That being said, Bourdais already seemed in upbeat spirits, in a statement released Sunday.

“I want to thank everybody for the support and the messages, quite a few drivers have already dropped by,” Bourdais said. “It’s going to take time, but I’m feeling pretty good since the surgery. I’ll be back at some point. Just don’t know when yet!”

INDYCAR: It’s a Davison encore, then back to good ‘ol TBA

BOWMANVILLE, ON – JULY 13: James Davison is shown on the grid before the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Mosport Park on July 13, 2014 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

On Sunday, James Davison was confirmed as Bourdais’ replacement in the No. 18 Honda for the Indianapolis 500, a move which raised some eyebrows in the paddock, but does make sense from a continuity standpoint within the Coyne team.

This is Davison’s third experience with Coyne, having made his IndyCar debut with the team in a handful of races in 2013, and then again jumping in for the 2015 Indianapolis 500.

At the latter event, he proved he could get up to speed quickly in practice, and was moving forward in the race before contact occurred – bizarrely – with another one-off teammate in Tristan Vautier.

Known for his innate speed and his ability to go all-out – Australian countryman Will Power rates Davison highly – Davison has the potential to bring the car from the back of the field forward to a potential top-15 result. Working with engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, the latter of whom was an engineer at KV Racing Technology when Davison was a rookie in 2014 as he finished an Indianapolis 500-best 16th place, will also aid his progress and his confidence.

With the Dale Coyne Racing team having built up the backup car and completed a seat fit by late Sunday night, Davison is expected to have his first running on Monday’s practice.

Davison will get through the Indianapolis 500 but then Coyne is, unfortunately, back to the long-running joke of a “TBA situation” from Detroit onwards.

Davison is experienced at Detroit in sports cars, where he’s podiumed before. But he hasn’t ever driven a street course race in IndyCar and his only two road course races were before the manufacturer aero kit introduction, at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in 2013, also with Coyne.

With a number of hungry young drivers and experienced team veterans to choose from, Coyne will no doubt be busy figuring out the best possible solution from there. It would not be a surprise if Coyne continued down the path of using some drivers he’s worked with before, given the opportunity.

LE MANS: Options wide in some respects, limited in others

LE MANS, FRANCE – JUNE 19: The Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller drives during the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 19, 2016 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

The sports car situation for Le Mans, in figuring out Bourdais’ replacement, is a bit more complex – owing to a lack of drivers who have Ford GT experience, or lack Le Mans experience, or some combination of both.

Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports on Sunday in Indianapolis before qualifying it was important to “let the dust settle” following Bourdais’ accident when it comes to discussing the Le Mans open seat, which is a salient point.

Hull and the CGR IndyCar team are locked in on trying to win the Indianapolis 500 first, with the four-car entry here. It’s not that Le Mans is secondary – the team has a victory to defend – but there, the two U.S.-based entries are the extras that join the two primary FIA World Endurance Championship entries.

It’s a shame that Bourdais will not be able to join his stablemates, Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, in defending their GTE-Pro class victory in the No. 68 Ford GT. It does leave open a rare seat in the winning chariot from 2016, though, with a decision probably set to come within “the days ahead” per Ford Performance Global Director Dave Pericak, to Sportscar365.

The only three drivers available with Ford GT experience are Marino Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Scott Maxwell.

Franchitti’s last start with the program came at Circuit of The Americas last year, with third driver Harry Tincknell moving into a full-season role the final few races of last year driving alongside Andy Priaulx.

Kanaan has car experience – he made his Ford GT debut at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona – but he’d be in the same dilemma Scott Dixon was last year, where he’d miss the Le Mans Test Day on June 4 owing to his IndyCar commitments at Detroit. Rookies at Le Mans have to go through a simulator process as well, so if Kanaan were to be the choice, he’d have to undertake that process barring an unexpected shift or waiver granted.

Maxwell, meanwhile, was an integral part of the Multimatic and Ford development process but has never actually raced the car. He has Le Mans experience, and a 2000 class win in LMP675, but the likable and talented Canadian’s five starts came between 2000 and 2006.

Outside those with Ford GT experience, there’s some intriguing names who could work.

In terms of ready-made plug-and-play solutions, IMSA Prototype drivers Ryan Dalziel, Johannes van Overbeek, Marc Goossens and Jonathan Bomarito have GT class experience at Le Mans. Joao Barbosa or Dane Cameron could be intriguing options – Barbosa is vastly experienced while Cameron would be a rookie – but owing to the fact they race Cadillacs in IMSA, it’s highly unlikely GM would release either to drive for the Blue Oval, even on a one-off. Dalziel has a versatile Le Mans CV in five starts, where he’s raced and won in LMP2 and also raced in GT twice.

In the GT Daytona classes, other veterans with Le Mans experience include Scott Pruett, Bryan Sellers, Gunnar Jeannette, Colin Braun and Jeff Segal. Segal won Le Mans in a mid-engined, normally aspirated Ferrari 458 Italia last year (the new 488 model, which Segal’s co-drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler are in, is a turbocharged one), and as he drives for Ganassi’s manufacturer partner in IndyCar – Honda (via Acura) – so he could be a viable option too. Braun, a CORE autosport Porsche driver now, has Ford experience from his NASCAR days and also via speed runs at Daytona in a Daytona Prototype. He’s currently scheduled to race GRC Lites in Canada that weekend with CORE.

And then there is a crazy, hypothetical situation that came to mind where Hand and Mueller have an old teammate they know well from their old manufacturer, BMW, who has a bunch of Le Mans experience and a similar partner in IHG Rewards Club: Bill Auberlen. Could BMW release Auberlen to Ford, “get the band back together” for one last hurrah, and see the still crazy fast, veteran Californian saddle up to ride with an American manufacturer? Especially as Auberlen could be in the frame for BMW’s 2018 Le Mans lineup on his own, and thus have only one more shot to reunite? This option is a remote one, but it is fascinating to ponder.

Bourdais’ injury is unfortunate for one of the most talented drivers competing in both the open-wheel and sports car worlds, but it does provide one or more drivers with shots in top-level equipment to star from here on out the rest of the 2017 season.

Da Costa: 2017 Le Mans hopes dashed by ‘ruined’ LMP2 market

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Antonio Felix da Costa feels his hopes of racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year were dashed by the lack of opportunities in the LMP2 market for platinum-rated drivers.

Da Costa currently races with MS Amlin Andretti in Formula E, but was angling for a drive at Le Mans in 2017 to add to his busy program that will also see him race at the Nürburgring 24 Hours with BMW, as well as developing its 2018 GTE car.

The Portuguese driver had been looking for a drive in the LMP2 class, but failed to secure a seat and was not named on the official entry list for the race, published on Tuesday.

“The LMP2 market is not nice at the moment,” da Costa explained to NBC Sports over the Monaco Formula E race weekend.

“It’s a bit ruined because the silver drivers are the most dominant factor there, and it’s not interesting for the teams to have a platinum driver.

“I would still love to do it just to get some experience, but the teams are charging money for the seats. All the gold and platinum guys are paying to be there, the silvers are paying to be there. The market itself is not great.”

Da Costa felt that running at Le Mans would have boosted his chances of securing a drive with BMW upon its entry to the FIA World Endurance Championship’s GTE Pro class in 2018, but remains hopeful of getting the nod for a seat.

“I’m sure if I did Le Mans this year, it would help me out to get a small advantage to get that seat next year,” da Costa said.

“That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do it as well, but yeah. I’m deeply involved in the development of the new car. Hopefully I can get myself into that.”

Updated Le Mans entry list, Toyota driver swap, revealed Tuesday

(Photo by Dean Treml/Red Bull via Getty Images)
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A handful of driver swaps and additions have been confirmed as part of the near finalized entry list for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Here’s the full entry list.

Chief among them is Toyota Gazoo Racing switching two of its drivers around between two of its three Toyota TS050 Hybrids. The recovering Jose Maria Lopez is shifted to the No. 9 entry with Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre, while Toyota veteran Stephane Sarrazin is slotted in alongside Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the team’s No. 7 car.

“Our circumstances have changed over the last few weeks as a result of the injury to José María,” Toyota team president Toshio Sato said in a release. “He is in the unfortunate position of having completed very few racing laps this year in WEC, so we all felt it was appropriate to adjust the driver line-up.

“I am very confident that Stéphane will fit well into a No. 7 line-up which can fight for the win. José María, like Yuji, will learn a lot at Le Mans this year, familiarizing himself with the track and the event in general, and this is an important step for the future as well.”

Elsewhere the ByKolles lineup retains the same trio of Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and James Rossiter, Jose Gutierrez joins the DragonSpeed-operated G-Drive entry in LMP2 replacing Leo Roussel, Graff Racing has finalized its LMP2 lineup and a handful of others have been swapped around in GTE-Am, notably at JMW Motorsport (in Will Stevens) and Proton Competition. Only the third seat in the No. 88 Porsche 911 RSR for Proton remains to be filled.

Breaking down the entry list a bit, Porsche looks for its third straight win and Toyota its elusive first.

Three full-season IndyCar drivers are set to participate in Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin, the three of them all set to miss the Le Mans Test Day at June 4 (will be racing in Detroit) and will then fly after the Texas race (June 10, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for scrutineering early in the week. NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell is also set to compete. Bourdais (GTE-Pro) and Bell (GTE-Am) will seek to defend their class wins last year in the same team and driver lineups with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Scuderia Corsa, respectively.

A trio of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires veterans – Gutierrez, Felix Rosenqvist and Will Owen – enter into a highly competitive 25-car LMP2 field for their debuts. Their runs will be interesting to watch.

From an American entry standpoint, there are seven teams and 12 cars, listed below:

  • 21-DragonSpeed-10-Star, Oreca 07, Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, Felix Rosenqvist
  • 32-United Autosports, Ligier JS P217, Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, Filipe Albuquerque
  • 43-Keating Motorsports, Riley Mk. 30, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Ricky Taylor
  • 63-Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor
  • 64-Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R, Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler
  • 66-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, Ford GT, Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke, Billy Johnson
  • 67-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, Ford GT, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Pipo Derani
  • 68-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Ford GT, Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais
  • 69-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Ford GT, Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon
  • 82-Risi Competizione, Ferrari 488 GTE, Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, Pierre Kaffer
  • 62-Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GTE, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Cooper MacNeil*
  • 65-Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GTE, Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan, Bret Curtis

*Only all-American driver lineup in the field.

There are 18 American drivers entered. They are, Will Owen, Gustavo Menezes, David Cheng, Ben Keating, Ricky Taylor, Mark Patterson, Matt McMurry (LMP2), Jordan Taylor, Tommy Milner, Billy Johnson, Joey Hand (GTE-Pro), Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Cooper MacNeil, Bret Curtis, Tracy Krohn, Patrick Long and Mike Hedlund (GTE-Am).

Will Stevens secures Le Mans seat with JMW Motorsport

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Recent Formula 1 driver Will Stevens has secured a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for 2017 after being named by JMW Motorsport in its line-up for the famous endurance race.

Stevens made his F1 debut at the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix before racing through 2015 with Manor, claiming a best result of 13th at Silverstone.

The Briton moved into sportscars for 2016, finishing on the podium at Le Mans with G-Drive and taking LMP2 class victory in Fuji and Shanghai.

Stevens has been racing for Team WRT in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup so far in 2017, but will return to Le Mans next month with JMW Motorsport in the GTE Am class. Stevens will race alongside Robert Smith and Dries Vanthoor in the No. 84 Ferrari 488 GTE at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place on June 17-18.

Alonso confident McLaren will return to Le Mans in the future

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Fernando Alonso is impressed by new McLaren boss Zak Brown’s more open approach to racing in other categories, and is confident that the British marque will return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the future.

Following the end of Ron Dennis’ 35-year reign of McLaren, Brown officially became executive director of the company in December last year.

The American businessman has already made widespread changes to the company, the most significant being the decision to allow Alonso to enter the Indianapolis 500 later this month and skip the Monaco Grand Prix.

When asked about the difference in approach between Brown and Dennis, Alonso said that McLaren’s new chief has a more open approach that is felt throughout the team.

“I think they are very different and I think there is a not a magic solution, or a magic way to lead a team to success,” Alonso said.

“Ron had a fantastic time in the past in McLaren with a lot of success, and now with Zak things are a little bit more open, inside the team but also for you guys, outside, how you can approach McLaren now is different, on the commercial side, also in a technical side.”

Alonso also praised Brown’s vision for McLaren in categories beyond F1, stating his belief that the team will feature more in the Indy 500 in the future and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans one day.

“I think also with Zak the biggest difference is the vision and the approach for the brand, for McLaren, which is a little bit different and wants to span the McLaren in different worlds and different categories,” Alonso said.

“We’ll see with the Indy 500, I think it is not only this year. I think McLaren will be in the Indy 500 for the future. I think McLaren will be in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the future, as they were in the past, when they won the Indy 500, when they won Le Mans.

“So that’s the biggest change we can feel inside McLaren, that Zak will not only concentrate in Formula 1, will concentrate in McLaren as a race team in different series.

“And the most important thing is obviously to sell cars and to sell the McLaren cars you need to open to new markets and especially the US market is probably the biggest one.”

McLaren famously won Le Mans back in 1995 with its F1 GTR car, but has not featured at the Circuit de la Sarthe since 1998.