IMSA notes: Action Express leads Day 1; Falken’s debut; MMPR’s third

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IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge are testing at Sebring International Raceway this week. A few brief news and notes to follow:

  • The biggest thing to watch coming out of this week’s test will be Prototype (P) class Balance of Performance adjustments that may come out after the tests. Restrictor amounts for for the Daytona Prototype-spec cars were yet to be determined in the pre-Sebring BoP rundown.
  • On Day 1, it was split between a P2-spec car leading the morning session (courtesy of OAK Racing) and a DP-spec car leading overall in the afternoon (Action Express Racing, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners). The P2 cars need to be closer to the DPs, if not outright ahead, at the conclusion of this test given the P2s are expected to be running quicker at handling-type circuits, compared to a track like Daytona where outright horsepower and straight-line speed make the difference.
  • Times from Session 1 and Session 2 are linked in this bullet point.
  • Team Falken Tire’s premiere of its customer Porsche 911 RSR, the first customer chassis of the new 991-spec car, is occurring this week. Nicknamed “Valentina” by its trio of drivers, Falken factory ace Bryan Sellers will drive with Porsche factory drivers Wolf Henzler and Marco Holzer this week.
  • Muscle Milk Pickett Racing has a new third driver for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring – it’s Nissan PlayStation GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough joining the No. 6 ORECA 03 Nissan’s regular two drivers, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr. If nothing else, this may set the unofficial record for “biggest gap between letters in driver last names.” But Mardenborough’s a very talented shoe, already confirmed to a GP3 deal earlier in the week, and with past P2-spec experience in a Zytek Z11SN Nissan at Le Mans last year. A video of Mardenborough made by Nissan is linked here; he’s testing with the team this week.
  • Testing from day two at Sebring continues today, with live timing available at scoring.imsa.com for both series.

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.