Lotus close to breaking into top ten in China

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After a disastrous winter testing period and a tough start to the season, Lotus technical director Nick Chester is confident that the team is on the verge of scoring its first points of the 2014 Formula 1 season.

Having finished fourth in last year’s constructors’ championship, the team has suffered a downturn in fortunes that have largely been caused by financial problems. The Enstone operation has been downsized by 20% and star driver Kimi Raikkonen left the team, but the arrival of Pastor Maldonado’s sizeable financial backing eased many of the problems. Now, Chester is confident that both Maldonado and teammate Romain Grosjean can break the team’s duck in the coming races.

“The E22 has tremendous potential even if we are only gradually unlocking it,” he explained. “In the Bahrain grand Prix we 
were closer to Mercedes, Williams and McLaren than we have been previously. Our race-pace gap to the Williams and McLaren is now half a second and it was over a second in Sepang, so we’ve made a decent incremental improvement.

“Although we were still not quick enough in Bahrain, we actually don’t need to find much more performance before we can be regularly in the points, which when you consider where we started from, is encouraging. We are about level with Toro Rosso for pace at the moment.”

In China, Chester is anticipating further improvement due to the nature of the Shanghai International Circuit.

“It should be better than Bahrain,” he said. “Bahrain was an obvious power circuit, as you could see from the way the cars lined up on the grid. China’s got a long back straight, however there are more slow and medium speed corners than Bahrain, so that gives us the chance to try and get closer to the front.”

Lotus is also set to bring an updated nose to the race, which will be a refined design of the twin tusk model.

Chester’s optimism might have been heard before, but the team is certainly making some good progress and could be poised to pick up some points in the next few races.

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.