Mid-Ohio: A haven for one-offs and random driver changes

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Oriol Servia will return to Panther Racing at Mid-Ohio for the first time since Iowa, while James Davison (Dale Coyne Racing) and Luca Filippi (Barracuda Racing/BHA) are set to make their IZOD IndyCar Series debuts this weekend at Mid-Ohio.

Par for the course, really, as the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has recently seemed a haven for driver swaps and one-off entries. With in-season testing fairly limited, teams have often used this race as a tryout for new drivers in preparation for the following year. There’s also been a higher than normal amount of injuries that have occurred heading into this race over the years.

Here’s a look back at some of the surprise entries the last few years, since IndyCar returned to the track in 2007:

  • 2012: Giorgio Pantano (pictured) substitutes for an injured Charlie Kimball at Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. Starts 24th, and finishes 14th.
  • 2011: Simon Pagenaud gets called in as a last-minute injury replacement for Justin Wilson at Dreyer & Reinbold. Starts 18th, finishes 13th. Martin Plowman makes his IndyCar debut in a jointly entered AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, starting 26th, finishing 18th.
  • 2010: Ex-Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand makes his IndyCar debut as a D&R injury replacement for Mike Conway, qualifying 18th and finishing 16th (Ed: thanks to DRR PR ace Brie Rentz for the catch, I didn’t have this initially). Former Honda F1 tester and A1GP champion Adam Carroll makes his second, and last, IndyCar start in an AFS/Andretti Autosport extra car. Starts 17th, finishes 19th. Englishman Jay Howard makes his fifth start of 2010 for Sarah Fisher Racing, starts 26th and finishes 24th. Conquest brings in unheralded Italian rookie Francesco Dracone for his IndyCar debut, starts 23rd, finishes 22nd in the memorable/infamous Halkin Jet/LaPasta.biz car. 
  • 2009: Servia, who like in 2013 did not have a ride for that full season, replaces Robert Doornbos at Newman/Haas Racing for his second of three eventual stints with the team (2005, 2011). He qualifies 14th, finishes 11th. Doornbos moves to a second HVM Racing car, qualifying 18th and finishing 14th. Richard Antinucci makes his fourth of five career IndyCar starts, qualifying 19th and finishing 18th for Team 3G. Paul Tracy is called in as a last-minute replacement for Mario Moraes at KV Racing, as the Brazilian lost his father. “PT” qualifies 10th and finishes seventh on short notice.
  • 2007: Ryan Hunter-Reay is plucked from career obscurity by Rahal Letterman Racing to replace the underperforming Jeff Simmons. He starts 10th and finishes seventh in his first open-wheel start in two years.

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.