24 Hours of Le Mans

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Bizarre 2017 Le Mans adds new twist: Driver mistaken as marshal

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The 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans ended two days ago but has had two post-script items that only add to the bizarre nature of this year’s race.

On Monday, it was the disqualification of Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 13 Oreca 07 Gibson from an overall podium (third place) and second in LMP2 following bodywork modification to address a starter issue.

On Tuesday, it’s the emergence of video to show a driver in a nearly identical firesuit to that of a pit lane or corner marshal giving a thumbs up to Kamui Kobayashi’s No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid under a safety car period that may have led to the Toyota’s eventual clutch failure.

Via Eurosport, it shows Kobayashi’s car stopped at pit out with a pit lane marshal in the background. Meanwhile after a couple seconds, Vincent Capillaire, an LMP2 class driver in the So24! and FLEX-BOX backed No. 45 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson, emerged from his pit garage to give Kobayashi a thumbs up.

However the Japanese driver appeared to mistake that sign of encouragement as an OK to leave the pit lane and return to the race course. The orange and black firesuit Capillaire had on was almost identical to the marshal’s, albeit with the FLEX-BOX black bar and branding a little lower on the suit.

Under a safety car period at Le Mans, any car that pits is held at pit out with a red light, until a green light flashes to be released. This is different from the slow zones that have become a recent staple of this race, which help prevent full safety car periods where the full 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe is slowed. Unless a slow zone is present on the front straight, there are no pit lane restrictions and drivers can enter and exit pit lane in a normal manner.

Capillaire attempted to explain his action on his Facebook page.

“Saturday evening, during the race, I was waiting for my relay, helmet on the head at my box,” Capillaire said, with the French translated to English.

“I wanted to show my encouragement to the leader car, stopped at red light a few meters in front of my box. .
It was a spontaneous encouragement mark as it happens between pilots.

“I was fined by Stewards for this gesture and I admit it was inopportune. I regret that.”

Kobayashi had started and stopped his car multiple times as a result; the clutch issue that followed came as an apparent result of this issue.

“The problem is that he was at the pit exit, so he was in pit mode where we started in electric, which is like the car was, he was in a mode which normally should not be used, so he has done several restarts with the clutch and the combustion engine,” Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon told Sportscar365, and later expanded that this burned up the clutch.

Capillaire, one of the youngest drivers in the field in American teenager Matt McMurry (19; turns 20 in November) and the oldest driver in the field in U.S.-based South African Mark Patterson (65), finished 16th in the 25-car LMP2 class and 33rd on the road of the 49 cars that finished and 60 that started, though will move up one position as a result of the Rebellion disqualification from Monday.

Toyota, meanwhile, could only feel regret after yet another lost opportunity.

“We will analyze what went wrong because we cannot accept a double retirement like that during the night,” team president Toshio Sato said in the team’s post-race release.

“We will come back stronger and more determined than ever; our Le Mans challenge will continue.”

Rebellion bounced from second in LMP2, third overall at Le Mans

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Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 13 Oreca 07 Gibson has been disqualified following post-race technical inspection at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The car was found to have modified bodywork on the engine cover in the form of a hole cut, which could help aid mechanics in restarting the car after pit stops and with starter issues having popped up earlier.

Here’s the formal release from the ACO:

During the post-race technical checks, certain irregularities were detected on the Vaillante Rebellion team’s #13 Oreca 07-Gibson, resulting in the car’s disqualification from the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Two infractions were noted by the technical marshals:

  • Modification to the body, found to be in technical non-compliance (decision of the stewards #58)
  • Unauthorized intervention in the closed park after the race (decision of the stewards #59)

The Vaillante Rebellion has confirmed its intention to file an appeal with the officials.

This disqualification causes a change to the overall classification for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s second car, the #37 driven by Cheng-Gommendy-Brundle, now claims the third step on the podium just behind its sister car, the #38, and the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

With the car in breach of regulations, the No. 13 car shared by Nelson Piquet Jr., Mathias Beche and David Heinemeier Hansson has now lost second place in LMP2 and third place overall.

DHH posted a couple tweets below; the team added it would have more to say once the investigation was complete.

Jackie Chan DC Racing now finishes 1-2 in LMP2 and 2-3 overall, the No. 37 Oreca of David Cheng, Tristan Gommendy and Alex Brundle the beneficiary, while Signatech Alpine’s No. 35 Alpine A470 of Nelson Panciatici, Pierre Ragues and Andre Negrao gets an LMP2 podium after all despite Negrao’s late off-course excursion at Arnage corner.

2018 Le Mans date set; 258,500 attended this year’s race

(Photo by Dean Treml/Red Bull via Getty Images)
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The 24 Hours of Le Mans continues in the same weekend and the same dates (basically) as it did in 2017, with the 2018 date confirmed for June 16-17 of next year.

This marks the first FIA World Endurance Championship race date revealed for next season, with others to follow.

The releases of the first draft of the Formula 1 and Formula E 2018 schedules offer a good glimpse into potential conflict weekends though.

Alas, Le Mans is non-conflicting with either championship, and with the return of the French Grand Prix a week later, June 23-24 at Paul Ricard, there could be a two-week double dip in France if any active F1 driver can take on Le Mans next season.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) announced Sunday that 258,500 spectators had taken in this year’s Le Mans, continuing its stronghold as the marquee endurance race in the world from a spectator standpoint.

Toyoda on Le Mans agony: ‘Sorry we weren’t able to let you drive all out’

Akio Toyoda (JPN) TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Photo: Toyota
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Toyota’s realistic chances of victory at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans went away in the overnight hours with the Nos. 7 and 9 Toyota TS050 Hybrids retiring within half an hour of each other with a clutch problem and accident damage, respectively. The remaining Toyota Gazoo Racing entry, the No. 8 car, rallied from its own front motor issues to finish nine laps back of the winning Porsche.

Here are the entire words of Akio Toyoda, President, Toyota Motor Corporation, presented to the team after this latest gut-wrenching loss at a race Toyota is still yet to win.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.
Le Mans 24 Hours Race, 12th to 18th June 2017
Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France. Photo: Toyota

“Sorry we weren’t able to let you drive all out.”

Normally, it would be proper to start off with words of appreciation for the support provided to us by our fans. However, for this time at Le Mans, I think I must first direct my opening words to our drivers.

To me, at Le Mans for the first time, our drivers said, “We want you up together with us at the center of the podium”, “For that, we definitely don’t want to lose”, and “So fight together with us.”

In return, I said: “Drive all out. Trust the cars the mechanics readied for you. Enjoy Le Mans.”

Despite telling them such, I was not able to allow them to drive all out. This, I truly regret. Even though our drivers drove believing in our cars, I can only say how sorry and how full of regret I am.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.
Le Mans 24 Hours Race, 12th to 18th June 2017
Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France.

I believe that the Toyota engineers, mechanics and parts suppliers, who built our cars for this battle, all feel the same.

Therefore, bearing the burden as a representative of all such people, please let me say once again: “Sorry we weren’t able to let you drive all out.”

Also, to all the people related to the Toyota team, including our nine drivers, I would like to share two things on my mind at this moment.

The first is for our fans.

To all the fans who supported us believing in victory for Toyota, I am truly sorry that we were not able to meet your expectations.

And for believing in us and giving us your passionate support for 24 hours all the way to the end, I want to express my deepest appreciation. Thank you. Thank you all so very much.

Once again, Toyota will strive for the day on which we can, together, have smiles on our faces.

Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of Porsche Supervisory Board, and Akyo Toyoda, President, Toyota Motor Corporation. Photo: Porsche

The second is for the Porsche team.

After last year’s battle, I happily received many comments from people at Porsche recognizing us as a rival.

To live up to having been called a “rival”, I had thought that what we needed to do this year was to again put up a brilliant fight that would captivate the fans.

That is why the team was able to take up bold challenges that resulted in new technologies and skills.

To the Porsche team, I say congratulations. And I also say thank you very much.

In the end, however, Toyota was not able to put up the kind of fight that could captivate the fans, like it did last year.

This time, both Porsche and we, Toyota, were not able to complete without incident 24 hours of driving in the hybrid cars that we put to the challenge on the roads of Le Mans.

Both even winning car No. 2 and our car No. 8, which completed the race, were forced to undergo time-consuming, trouble-caused repairs, before struggling to cross the finish line.

While the hybrid technology that has advanced through competition in the FIA World Endurance Championship puts its abilities on display in six-hour races, it might be that it is not yet ready for the long distance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The power of electricity is absolutely necessary for cars take on a more-emotional presence.

Le Mans is a precious laboratory in which we can continue to take up the challenges related to the technologies involved, putting such technologies to the test in an extreme environment.

We will hone our technologies even further and ripen them to provide our customers with technologies that will truly make them smile. And we, Toyota, will go on making effort after effort so that we can continue making ever-better cars.

We invite you to look forward to what we will be able to achieve. Thank you.

Akio Toyoda

President

Toyota Motor Corporation

Bell podiums, Ford Ganassi IndyCar stars end midpack at Le Mans

Photo: Scuderia Corsa
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The 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans proved to be a challenging race for representatives from the Verizon IndyCar Series. However, one did finish on the podium in his class, while all four of them saw the checkered flag at the end.

The best finishing in class was NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who finished on the podium in the GTE Am class in the No. 62 WeatherTech-backed Ferrari 488 GTE for Scuderia Corsa.

With co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Bill Sweedler, the trio managed to avoid a lot of the chaos that surrounded this year’s Le Mans to emerge third in class (30th overall), with the car never having significant issues at any point during the 24-hour endurance race.

Of note: this marks the third consecutive class podium for Bell and Sweedler, who also won last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE Am class, while MacNeil scored his first ever podium at the endurance classic.

“Wow, what a race,” Bell said. “I spent a lot of time in the car over the 24 hours. The car was nearly as good at the end as it was when I started it. Thanks to WeatherTech for being with us this weekend and to the whole Scuderia Corsa crew and the team from Kessel. We had a great combination of drivers and support here all week.”

Sweedler added, “It is magical to get here again and do well. Three runs here and three podiums, two third place finishes and a win is incredible. The WeatherTech Racing Ferrari was incredible. The Scuderia Corsa team did a great job. Townsend did monster stints and Cooper did a great job as well. What a day!”

Of his maiden Le Mans podium, MacNeil said, “We ran a really clean race. We only had a couple of minor issues all race. I ran clean and didn’t put a wheel wrong all and that is how you have to run here at Le Mans. We gave it all we had. We ran to plan, did the stops and driver changes and ran our race. We kept it clean and the great work from the Scuderia Corsa and Kessel guys got us up on the podium. The WeatherTech Racing Ferrari ran great the entire 24 hours.”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw two of its IndyCar stars make the trip over, with Tony Kanaan taking Sebastien Bourdais’ place in the No. 68 driver lineup, joining defending GTE Pro winners Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, while Scott Dixon partnered Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 69.

Photo: Ford Performance

With GTE Pro proving the most intense of the four classes, the Ford GTs stayed in contention for much of the race, but ultimately faded at the end despite finishing on the same lap as the winning No. 97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8.

Kanaan managed to finish sixth in class (23rd overall), with Dixon right behind him (seventh in class, 24th overall).

Photo: Ford Performance

Mueller described the race, and Kanaan’s debut, for the No. 68 entry: “Congratulations to the No. 67 crew for a fantastic second-place finish,” Müller said. “We know how it feels to make it on to the podium. It’s a good feeling. We were hit with so many things during the race. Joey did a good job and definitely Tony Kanaan. (Adding him to the lineup) was such a rush. We arrived here on Tuesday morning and from that moment on it all went so fast. He gave everything for us and we made a good team.”

In the prototype ranks, Mikhail Aleshin joined Sergey Sirotkin and Viktor Shaytar in the No. 37 Dallara P217 Gibson for SMP Racing. After suffering mechanical problems, the no. 37 car could do no better than 17th in class (34th overall) after falling 36 laps behind the winning No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 Gibson. However, Aleshin, Sirotkin, and Shaytar did complete the 24-hour distance, despite their problems.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.