March Madness: Racing is finally back in full, busy swing

1 Comment

March is undoubtedly my favorite month of the year from a sporting perspective. With NFL free agency, MLB spring training and the official March Madness kickoff, with Selection Sunday following the conference championships, there is no shortage of awesome this month.

In racing, that’s really apparent, as it is finally the fully fledged kickoff to the entire new season.

Yes, the Rolex 24 at Daytona brings North American racing out of its collective slumber to get the season kicked off in January. And yes, NASCAR has had now a full month of action, with now two rain-affected races at legendary Daytona and Bristol.

But this weekend marked the full complement of series in action that sees more than just NASCAR making racing headlines.

Formula One began its new era with a memorable, surprise-laden 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg won and the emergence of the next wave of new talent – Kevin Magnussen, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat – began to showcase themselves.

Road racing was in the news with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, now run by the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The race had its highlights but was dragged down by a caution-laden first half of the race and admitted officiating mistakes in the second half.

NHRA shifted from out west to Gainesville for the Gatornationals.

Although it wasn’t on track, IndyCar made the news cycle on Friday with the confirmation of Verizon as its new title sponsor in what will be a multi-year deal. The two-day test at Barber Motorsports Park this week marks the official on-track reveal of the new Verizon IndyCar Series.

This weekend, there were four major, international racing events all to follow and while at times trying to keep straight what was all happening in Melbourne, Bristol, Sebring and Gainesville was all a bit much for my head, it was a welcome reminder that we’re about to really kick this 2014 racing season into high gear.

And that is music to my, and race fans beyond NASCAR’s, ears.

On the rest of the docket this month:

  • NASCAR Sprint Cup: Fontana (March 23), Martinsville (March 30)
  • F1: Malaysian Grand Prix (March 30)
  • IndyCar: St. Petersburg (March 30)
  • Pirelli World Challenge: St. Petersburg (March 30)
  • FIA WEC: Paul Ricard test (March 28-29)
  • NHRA: Las Vegas (March 30)

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
3 Comments

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.