The IMS road course is legit – a view from the passenger’s seat

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In the run-up to today’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, drivers have pretty much offered near universal praise for the revised Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

That’s to be expected, because lest you be viewed as “the critic” who isn’t trumpeting the series’, or track’s, efforts to make this a circuit worthy of the “hallowed ground” distinction that IMS has held for more than 100 years.

You don’t want the law coming after you saying, “Hey, why aren’t you pimping this new race and new track?”

And while the IMS road course doesn’t pose a threat to the purpose-built, North American natural parks disguised as permanent road courses like Road America and Barber Motorsports Park, I can confirm the drivers aren’t BS-ing when it comes to the quality of this track.

The IMS road course is freaking legit, and that’s with a view from the passenger’s seat in a Chevrolet Camaro.

The Indy Racing Experience always makes both pace car rides and two-seater rides available, and while the latter would have been incredible, the former was no slouch.

I saddled up with my man Anders Krohn, who’s carved quite a career outside the driver’s seat between his NBCSN Indy Lights TV analyst role, his co-founding of the CoForce International driver development program and his continued role with IRE driving both the pace cars and the two-seaters.

Here’s the funny part. As part of NBCSN’s Indy Lights coverage, Krohn has already done stand-ups and called Race 1 of the double-header weekend, but only having completed a single track walk lap before our rides this morning.

“Now I get to understand the lines that I’ve been telling them to run,” “The Viking” joked.

Believe it or not the first thing that came on the radio as a pump-up to the lap was DJ Hardwell, who will be playing the Turn 3 Snake Pit on Indianapolis 500 race day. “I’m down with that,” I cracked, much to Krohn’s amusement.

But we got our game faces up and burned out of the pits – Krohn driving a manual transmission for the first time in a while – behind the quartet of two-seaters.

Turn 1 is tight, like full-on 90-degree right-hander tight. This has clearly been tightened from the almost flowing right off the banking used by Formula One in its run here, and based on yesterday’s three Mazda Road to Indy events there’s going to be a wealth of passing as has been projected.

Turns 2 through 4 will test how hard these guys can push with the quick left, right and right again. We’ve already seen a number of incidents in Turns 3 and 4 and the apex and line through 4, as projected, will be crucial to the run down the backstraight.

Krohn hit both apexes nicely on the Turns 5/6 chicane and powered down Hulman Blvd., a.k.a. the backstraight on the run down to Turn 7. Like Turn 1, this is another full-90, tighter than it was in the F1 era. Even at 8:35 this morning, there’s fans already camped out on the hillside mounds.

Grip’s high at all points on this track, as there’s no sliding.

The back section of the course from Turns 7 through to 12, a left, right, left, and three rights complex, is where teams that have opted for a higher downforce setting should be in good shape, and perhaps have the opportunity to pass into Turn 12.

The entry to 12 is a bit hard to nail, as you’re briefly back on the oval and not completely flat, but have to apex tighter into the right-hander, then be in proper position for the left-handed Turn 13 that will prove pivotal as cars launch through Turn 14 and back onto the front straight.

Not bad for Krohn’s first lap, and certainly not bad from the passenger’s seat.

And by not bad, I mean freaking awesome.

Thanks to Indy Racing Experience and Chevrolet for the opportunity.

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.