NASCAR, Indy testing plus F1, TUDOR launches make for busy January

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The month of December is pretty much an off month for the entirety of the motorsports world. Most posts on MotorSportsTalk have been on quotes, with little in the way of actual on-track action. That changes in January, and here’s what there is to look forward to:

  • TUDOR’s big launch: The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship gets the ball rolling with the Roar Before the 24 test this weekend, January 3-5, at Daytona International Speedway. The Rolex 24 at Daytona, one of North America’s longest-running sports car races, drops the green flag on Jan. 25 to launch a new era in North American sports car racing as the combination of teams from the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series come together. Throughout the past 16 months, the process of merging the assets together has occurred, and final details are emerging this month. It should be interesting to watch.
  • NASCAR preseason testing: Six days of mostly primer-only cars and trucks going in circles doesn’t sound exciting on paper, but considering it’s the first on-track activity in six or so weeks, NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona always seems to wake fans from their offseason slumber. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams test Jan. 9-10, Nationwide Series teams Jan. 11-12 and Camping World Truck Series teams Jan. 13-14. The first three days will see 12 total hours televised on FOX Sports 1.
  • F1 comes close to filling its field, and begins launches: As of this writing, no Formula One team has yet announced its launch date for its 2014 car. But from renderings that have followed their way around the Internet, and based on the technical changes that come into play for 2014, they should be shaken up from what’s been out the last five years. The first launches will likely occur toward the end of the month, and run into February. Additionally, Marussia (second seat) and Caterham (its two seats) still need to confirm their drivers to round out the 22-car field.
  • IndyCar testing resumes: IndyCar testing is blacked out until January 8 and the first major bit of on-track action after it resumes will occur on January 17 at Sebring International Raceway with a Chevrolet manufacturer’s test. The Ganassi, Penske, Carpenter, KVSH and Panther teams are currently slated for that test.
  • IndyCar’s silly season continues: Since our last silly season update, the IndyCar driver market has quieted down. But over the next few weeks, there could be news from some or all of the Barracuda, Coyne, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, KVSH and Panther teams.
  • Elsewhere: The Dakar Rally commences soon, with TV broadcasts on NBCSN … NHRA testing will occur before its first race at Pomona Feb. 6-9 … the FIA World Rally Championship has its annual landmark event, Rally Monte Carlo, Jan. 14-19 … the Pirelli World Challenge Championships will likely see some driver and team announcements over the month considering its projected car count north of 80 cars across its five classes and one subcategory

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.