IMSA: Corvettes have first chance to double up at Long Beach

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The Corvette brand has its first chance to sweep the two categories of racing in the third round of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, as the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes take to the streets of Long Beach for the 100-minute Patron Showcase this weekend.

A Corvette Daytona Prototype took the season opener, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Action Express Racing’s trio of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais behind the wheel of the team’s No. 5 entry.

The trio currently lead the P class points standings with 67 points, 9 clear of the next full-season lineup of Jordan and Ricky Taylor, as well as Max Angelelli.

Those two Corvette DP teams drop their third drivers for the first time this season; for Ricky and Jordan in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry, it’s the first time just the two brothers have shared a car since 2009 in Homestead. The team will have a new sponsorship announcement later this week.

Spirit of Daytona and Marsh Racing round out the four Corvette DPs in the projected 11-car P class field, as DPs return to the track for the first time since 2006. The American Le Mans Series ran at Long Beach from 2007 through 2013.

“There are many unique challenges to racing around Long Beach,” Jim Lutz, Chevrolet’s Program Manager for Corvette DPs, said in a pre-race release. “As DPs have not raced there in some time, there are many unknowns – things like suspension and aero setup, and gearing ratios will be best estimates based on our simulations at Chevrolet. The length of the race and minimum drive times bring a new element of strategy into play as well. More than ever, the teams that are best prepared ahead of Friday’s first practice will have distinct advantages. We’re confident our Corvette DP teams will be chief among those.”

The factory Corvette GT program, meanwhile, is no stranger to Long Beach success. Between the C6.R GT1 and GT2 programs in ALMS, the team has four prior class wins on the legendary street circuit, most recently with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in 2012.

As the new C7.R takes to the track this weekend, the pair of GTLM entries seek to end a string of bad luck that plagued them in the two endurance races. The No. 4 Corvette led a majority of Sebring before a fuel pressure issue took the car out of contention; the sister No. 3 suffered an opening lap collision and a punctured tire.

“A street circuit can make a little difference to a driver but at the same time you have to say to that you can only drive around in the car you’re given,” Gavin explained in a manufacturer pre-race release. “Sometimes little tweaks and little things in just the right spots can make the difference in having a car on the front row and winning or losing the race. Pace is very, very important there because it’s a short race. You need to qualify well and on top of everything.”

The No. 4 sees these two again at the wheel, with the No. 3 bolstering the solid duo of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, 2013 ALMS driver’s champions in GT.

A two-hour practice kicks things off Friday with qualifying later that afternoon, and the 100-minute race Sunday just after 3 p.m. PDT/local time.

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.