The reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans champions hit the top step of the podium today in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s six-hour battle at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Loic Duval, Allen McNish and Tom Kristensen in the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro (pictured, from their victory this year at Le Mans) earned overall and LMP1 wins by a margin of 23.6 seconds over the No. 8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin, and Sebastian Buemi, which provided the Audi camp with a stiff push during the proceedings.
“The car was faultless and it ran really well,” McNish said afterwards during the WEC’s worldwide streaming broadcast. “The guys set it up extremely well considering we had such a lack of practice time, and I’m very, very pleased.”
In the LMP2 category, IZOD IndyCar Series part-timer Mike Conway helped the No. 26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 03 Nissan net top honors for the second consecutive WEC race alongside co-drivers Roman Rusinov and John Martin.
“Hopefully we can keep this going on for the next few rounds,” Martin said. “It’s amazing. The team’s done an absolutely awesome job all weekend. We’ve been the fastest in every session – just amazing.”
GTE-Pro top honors went to the No. 99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Fred Makowiecki and Bruno Senna, nephew of Formula One great Ayrton Senna. Aston Martin also reigned supreme in GTE-AM, securing a 1-2 finish in class with the No. 96 combo of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall taking the checkers by 1.5 seconds over the No. 95 trio of Nicki Thiim, Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard.
According to the Circuit of the Americas, the combined WEC-American Le Mans Series weekend drew a three-day crowd of 33,591 despite heavy rains marring the first day of the weekend on Friday. For comparison’s sake, COTA drew 26,648 fans for its two-day GRAND-AM weekend this past spring.
The WEC now moves on to Japan, where they’ll stage another six-hour run at Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway on October 20.
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”