Tough day for big names in St. Pete qualifying

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While the likes of Takuma Sato, Simona de Silvestro and Tristan Vautier made the Firestone Fast Six, and Dragon Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra surprised with a solid ninth place qualifying effort, some of the biggest names in IndyCar will need some help to produce a good result in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing failed to get either of its two cars into the Firestone Fast Six at St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year. Dario Franchitti clocked in 10th with Scott Dixon unable to better 20th on the 25-car grid.

“We have just been a bit behind in getting the Target cars up to speed here this weekend for some reason,” said Dixon. “I keep finding myself fighting understeer in the car.”

Dixon has traditionally had poor luck at St. Pete; despite three runner-up finishes since 2005, Dixon has failed to finish better than 16th in four of the last five years. Franchitti won at St. Pete in 2011.

The frustration with Honda’s lack of pace, compared to Chevrolet, appears palpable in the Honda camps. Ganassi told the AP’s Jenna Fryer that Honda “has some work to do, but I think they know that.”

Justin Wilson and Charlie Kimball just missed advancing from the first qualifying session in either of their two groups.

Some fellow strugglers from the Honda camp included both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entries (Graham Rahal 15th, James Jakes 18th), a pair of 2012 IndyCar rookies in Josef Newgarden (16th) and Simon Pagenaud (19th) and Bryan Herta Autosport’s Alex Tagliani, who in the team’s first St. Pete race with Honda (they raced a Lotus the first three races of 2012), lines up 17th.

The biggest name from the Chevrolet camp knocked out in Q1 was Saavedra’s Dragon teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who has been off pace all weekend in his adopted American hometown. Bourdais, who made his American open-wheel racing debut in the 2003 Champ Car race in St. Pete, lines up 21st.

Whether any of the above drivers opt for an off-sequence strategy for what should be a three-stop race remains to be seen.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.