Perez makes it 2-for-2 after leading Friday Bahrain test

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Again, in the grand scheme of things, testing times mean little. But Sergio Perez couldn’t have done much better for himself or his new team of Force India after two days of Formula One’s last preseason test in Bahrain.

The Mexican led the timesheets for the second successive day, albeit at a slower best lap than his Thursday flier of 1:35.290. His Friday best was nearly three full tenths off at 1:35.570.

But more important than lap times, again, was lap count. And for a second straight day Perez topped the century mark, at 108 completed in the VJM07-Mercedes. Others cracking that barrier included Fernando Alonso (122), Felipe Massa (103) and Esteban Gutierrez (106).

Alonso, who was second in the Ferrari F14 T at 1:35.634, set a new single-lap high for this F1 testing season with the 122 complete. The 116 set by Valtteri Bottas on Thursday, Feb. 20 (Day 2 of Bahrain test 1) had been the previous high-water mark.

In third, with something to celebrate for once, was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with 66 laps completed in the RB10-Renault at a best time of 1:35.743. Both the lap and time marks are by far Red Bull’s best of this troubled preseason, and Ricciardo was a full 2.2 seconds quicker Friday than he had been Thursday. Four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel takes the reins of the car this weekend.

The Toro Rosso team also cracked the 60-lap barrier with Jean-Eric Vergne completing 61 laps. Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson got 55 in before a small fire.

Rounding out the Renault quartet in laps was Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, who had an unlucky day in the No. 13. The Venezuelan suffered what the team deemed on Twitter: “Sufficient char-grilling to render us out for the rest of today. Causation investigations continue.” Maldonado completed a day-low 31 laps.

Marussia got another good day of running in, which was very much needed after last week’s difficulties. Max Chilton ran 44 laps on Thursday, which was already 15 laps more than they did all last week. Then on Friday, Jules Bianchi took over the car and ran 75 laps, actually ending sixth on the day ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It marked a huge stride forward for the Anglo-Russian team, with its Ferrari-powered MR03.

FRIDAY TIMES FROM BAHRAIN:
1. Sergio Perez, Force India-Mercedes, 1m 35.570s, 108 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m 35.634s, 122
3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault, 1m 35.743s, 66
4. Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes, 1m 36.507s, 103
5. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m 36.901s, 52
6. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, 1m 38.092s, 75
7. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m39.041s, 89
8. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m 39.636s, 61
9. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m 39.976s, 106
10. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault, 1m 41.613s, 31
11. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault, 1m 42.516s, 55

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.