Alex Zanardi finishes 13th in Blancpain GT Sprint debut

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Yesterday, the toughest man on the planet got back to doing what he does best.

Former CART champion and F1 pilot Alex Zanardi – who lost his legs in a 2001 crash but has become a two-time Paralympic champion in hand cycling – got back behind the wheel in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series’ season opener at Nogaro, France.

Zanardi drove a modified BMW Z4 GT3 for the Roal Motorsport team, whom he competed for in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. The Italian appeared on line for a Top-10 finish at Nogaro, but in the final laps, problems with the clutch caused him to fade to 13th at the finish.

Afterwards, Zanardi tried to look at the big picture but still called finishing out of the points in his Blancpain debut “a pity.”

“In the race, our BMW Z4 GT3 was probably better than many other cars, so this gives me hope for the next races,” he said in a team statement. “Unfortunately we had this problem – which has nothing to do with BMW – but it was the clutch which we installed for me. It compromised my race even in the first half.

“After the pit stop, I managed to somehow start without the clutch, but then the car became very difficult to drive and basically, I was driving the whole third sector in fourth gear to avoid problems. At the hairpin, I tried to shift down but nothing was happening, then all of a sudden the gears were there. But what can you do, this is racing. Now I am looking forward to the next round.”

Nonetheless, Zanardi held his own on Monday, with team principal Roberto Ravaglia noting that he logged one of the ten fastest laps during Monday’s race.

“This shows how competitive Alex can be,” he said. “In the first stint, before the clutch troubles, he was consistent and was able to go faster and faster, lap by lap, and in all track sectors.

“Now we need to work in order to improve in qualifying and to let him start from a better position than this weekend’s 14th.”

BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt also hailed Zanardi’s effort, which he said proved that “he is still a real racer.”

“He can be satisfied with his performance,” said Marquardt. “You should not forget that GT racing is something new for him, and that he is competing against strong and experienced rivals.”

Mercedes drivers Maximilian Buhk and Maximilian Götz won the race at Nogaro.

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.