Le Mans

CJ Wilson’s epic month features Spa, Le Mans, McLaren gamer challenge

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The post-baseball life is not bad for CJ Wilson, who’s racing full-time now that he’s retired from Major League Baseball.

Wilson races domestically in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and he’s also racing with United Autosports, co-driving a Ligier JS P3 with Andrew Evans in the Brands Hatch, Spa and Snetterton rounds of the Henderson Insurance LMP3 Cup Championship.

Wilson had his Spa debut earlier this month in the LMP3 car. A further link-out recapping Wilson’s month of European adventures is here.

More recently Wilson, who owns several automotive dealerships including McLaren Scottsdale, has partnered with McLaren’s recently launched “World’s Fastest Gamer” competition to create the CJ Wilson Racing 570 Challenge, powered by McLaren Scottsdale.

The five-race series runs in July and August at Daytona, Sebring, Road America, Sonoma and Road Atlanta, with qualifying beginning July 3 on Forza Motorsport 6 for the XBox One.

“Racing is unlike any other sport, for example there is no way to accurately simulate baseball whereas the entirety of your driving inputs and controls can be tweaked and honed online and judged or graded,” Wilson said in a release.

“You can race in the simulator exactly as you would at Silverstone, COTA, or Monaco. While competing at the highest levels of Motorsport is a completely unique experience- with today’s simulator and even console technology- the merging between simulation and reality is closer than ever.”

Executive Director of McLaren Technology Group, Zak Brown added, “McLaren group is committed to bring Motorsport to new audiences, and having CJ on board is another step in this process.”

The full release is linked here via CJWR, and here via McLaren. A video that explains “World’s Fastest Gamer” is above; the ultimate achievement for gamers is to become McLaren’s sim driver.

Wilson was also at Le Mans this year for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. We’d advise you to view his Twitter feed, @Str8EdgeRacer, for all the festivities he took part in over the year.

Rayhall: A special, dream win on debut at Le Mans!

Rayhall and Falb win at Le Mans. Photo: United Autosports
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Editor’s note: Sean Rayhall, one of America’s rising driving talents, will file a series of blogs throughout the year chronicling his season in the European Le Mans Series, co-driving with John Falb at Zak Brown and Richard Dean’s United Autosports team in its Ligier JS P3 Nissan. His second blog looks at the team’s voyage to the Michelin Le Mans Cup Road to Le Mans race, which sees LMP3 and GT3 cars tackle the Circuit de la Sarthe. His first blog after Silverstone is linked here.  

So I don’t think many drivers have weeks like these their first time at Le Mans! Anyway, I’ll attempt to recap.

I arrived in Le Mans by myself Tuesday because John (Falb) had a later flight and did the European train thing to get to the hotel. Well to be honest, it wasn’t really a hotel; it was a castle. So I did a bit of running around the castle to get rid of jet lag, and had a nice dinner with our United Autosports team.

Photo courtesy Sean Rayhall

The next day, Wednesday, was very long. Our first practice session was at 8:30 p.m., and that didn’t go exactly as planned. The first lap I bed in the brakes, but the second lap we had an engine failure coming out of Tertre Rouge. Our run plan was for me to do the entire first session and John to do the second, so this meant I was going to have no laps before qualifying to learn it or dial in the car. But it worked out despite this minor setback; I ended up qualifying sixth in the first session, and John qualified second in the Bronze session, which was absolutely remarkable.

I had a lot of faith in United Autosports being able to get us on the podium after working all night and not even getting to go back to the hotel for a shower, I really wanted to make something happen for the guys.

Thursday was our first of two roughly one-hour races, with the second race on Saturday morning before the 24-hour race. In race one, John had a great stint, which put me in a good position leaving the pits in fourth place. From there I was able to pass the for the lead by the end of the second lap of my stint and make a gap.

Photo: United Autosports

When our guys came over the radio and said I was leading, I could not believe it. It was like Indy Lights at the Indy GP all over again (Editor’s note; Rayhall won race two at IMS with 8Star Motorsports in 2015) and everything got really quiet in the car and I just went to work for the rest of the stint to win the race.

Winning in Europe is one thing, but winning at Le Mans is another… and at that moment it hit me once I got on the victory podium.

Photo: United Autosports

Hearing the U.S. national anthem and having the American flag fly above us was very surreal. I still can’t really wrap my finger around what exactly I felt that day, but I can tell you it was special.

For race two, John once again opened for us with another fantastic stint before we got blocked in the pits while we tried to leave. That cost us 10-12 seconds in total, in which track position wise kept us from being able to fight with the Norma. So after pushing as hard as I could, we ended up second in race two.

It is the first time I’ve truly been happy with second, because the way the BOP was, we were about 10 kph down on the straightway compared to the Norma, one of the other LMP3 chassis. For us, in reality, it felt like a win because with all of Le Mans’ long straights, it’s impossible to catch a car that has that much more top speed.

I have to thank United Autosports for their work this week, staying at the track all night with zero sleep and getting us a car to win after that is just special. Also John Falb drove flawlessly, by far the best drive of his entire life the whole weekend. Thanks to Sports Insure, AERO Paint, Ligier UK, and Oreca gear for giving us the chance to do this!

Oh yeah, and you can imagine the night we had after. I don’t think the celebration on the podium really gives you the full effect of the fun we had the next few nights!

I’ll check in again soon. Thanks for reading!

Photo: United Autosports

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.