Loic Duval’s fastest lap leads Audi 1-2-3 in Le Mans qualifying

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Qualifying for a 24-hour race isn’t particularly important, but the pride of being on pole position still matters. For three manufacturers, they have that honor for the 90th Anniversary 24 Hours of Le Mans.

To no-one’s great surprise, Audi has scored the overall pole with the No. 2 R18 e-tron quattro co-driven by Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval. Duval’s lap set Wednesday held as the fastest overall at 3:22.349 around the 8.469-mile Circuit de la Sarthe. Audi has the top three spots in LMP1 and overall, with the No. 1 second (Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler) and the No. 3 third (Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gene, Oliver Jarvis).

Nissan captured the pole in LMP2 with OAK Racing, and French driver Olivier Pla in the No. 24 Morgan Nissan. Mike Conway’s No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca Nissan is second on the grid ahead of the No. 38 Zytek Nissan fielded by JOTA Sport (Simon Dolan, Oliver Turvey, Lucas Luhr). Pla co-drives with Danish programming whiz David Heinemeier Hansson and Martin Brundle’s son Alex, while Conway co-drives with John Martin and Roman Rusinov.

Aston Martin has completed a lockout of the GTE Pro and GTE Am class poles with 2013 and 2012-spec Vantages. Fred Makowiecki has the GTE Pro class pole in the No. 99 entry, which he’ll co-drive with Rob Bell and ex-Williams F1 driver Bruno Senna. Allan Simonsen set the mark in GTE Am, for year-old spec cars. Makowiecki’s best lap was 3:54.635 with Simonsen at 3:57.776.

As for the highlights of teams and drivers from the ALMS and GRAND-AM:

  • ALMS team Rebellion Racing’s No. 12 Lola Toyota dropped one spot from Wednesday, and will start the 24 Hours sixth overall (and LMP1). ALMS regulars Nick Heidfield and Neel Jani are joined by Nicolas Prost this weekend in the prototype. Rebellion’s No. 13 entry, co-driven by Andrea Belicchi, Mathias Beche and Cong Fu Cheng, qualified right behind, in seventh.
  • The No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8, co-driven by Bill Auberlen, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy, qualified fifth, in GTE Pro.The No. 77 Dempsey Del Piero-Proton Porsche 911 GT3 with Patrick Long, Joe Foster and Patrick Dempsey driving, will start seventh in the LM GTE Am class.
  • The sole GRAND-AM team competing, 8 Star Motorsports, has a Ferrari F458 Italia going off ninth in GTE Am. Owner/driver Enzo Potolicchio is joined by co-drivers Rui Aguas and Jason Bright.
  • The three teams featuring GRAND-AM Corvette DP standouts Richard Westbrook, Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor – all in Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1s – will start deep in their respective classes. Westbrook’s team starts eighth in GTE Pro; Jordan Taylor’s team starts ninth in GTE Pro, and Ricky Taylor’s team starts 12th in GTE Am.
  • And Ryan Dalziel, a Le Mans champion last year in LMP2, will co-drive the No. 53 SRT Motorsports Viper which will grid 10th in GTE Pro.

The race begins at 3 p.m. local time Saturday (check local listings).

F1: Red Bull Racing confirms switch to Honda engines next season

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Honda will become Red Bull’s engine supplier from next season after the Formula One team confirmed its anticipated split with Renault on Tuesday.

The Japanese manufacturer will supply engines for 2019 and 2020, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed the deal as “an exciting new phase” in the bid to return to the top of F1.

“After careful consideration and evaluation, we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team,” Horner said in a team statement. “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our (feeder) team Toro Rosso.”

It is a boost for Honda, which was unceremoniously dumped by McLaren at the end of last year.

Honda has started this season brightly as engine provider for Toro Rosso, and this may have been a key factor in Red Bull finally ditching Renault.

“Honda’s alignment with both Red Bull Formula One teams provides enormous potential,” Horner said. “Honda will have access to a wealth of data from both outfits, with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing leading the way, and the opportunities for faster, more effective and more competitive development are doubled.”

The deal brings to an end Red Bull’s 12-year partnership with Renault.

Although relations became increasingly strained between the two parties in recent years, it was once a dream partnership as Red Bull and Renault won four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel from 2010-13.

During that glory era, Vettel and teammate Mark Webber won 47 grand prix. Since 2013, results have somewhat dried up and there have been only 10 race wins.

“We have sometimes had our differences but Renault has always worked tirelessly and to the best of its ability to provide us with a competitive power unit,” Horner said.

He was not always quite so complimentary about Renault. He has regularly and publicly criticized Renault’s reliability in recent years – although it has been hard to judge sometimes.

Red Bull showed good speed toward the end of last season when Max Verstappen won two races, and teammate Daniel Ricciardo won this season’s Chinese GP with a brilliant drive. The difference in speed between Red Bull and Mercedes appears less than before, although Ferrari remains noticeably quicker.

Verstappen’s form has picked up after a poor start to 2018, marred by crashes, and he has taken third place in two of the past three races.

Meanwhile, McLaren’s partnership with Renault has not been as successful as they anticipated after dropping Honda following three fruitless seasons together.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso has failed to finish the past two races and has yet to place higher than fifth. Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg has a best finish of fourth place.