Le Mans: Patrick Long back with Dempsey-Proton Porsche

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Porsche factory ace Patrick Long will be back with Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster in the Dempsey Racing-Proton Porsche 911 RSR, which will compete in the GTE-Am class in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Dempsey Racing is returning with top German Porsche team Proton Competition for next month’s race after a seamless and highly-successful initial effort together last year at Circuit de la Sarthe. The all-American trio of Dempsey, Foster and Long will again carry No. 77 on their new Type 991-based Dempsey Racing-Proton Porsche 911 RSR built to GTE-AM regulations.

“When we first raced at Le Mans in 2009 it took us several years to get back there to compete in last year’s race and I immediately realized how much I missed it,” said Dempsey, who led his first race laps at Le Mans in 2013. “The grand spectacle of the race, the incredible passion of the fans and the outstanding cooperation of the organizers make Le Mans the unquestioned highlight of our racing season. We are honored to be able to come back for a second consecutive year, my third time overall with Joe, and we are grateful to Porsche and all of our dedicated partners for making this possible.”

Long’s return to the team continues a recent trend of top factory Porsche talent joining Dempsey Racing at international endurance events as part of a multi-year brand and promotional partnership with Porsche AG. Long was the first “works” Porsche pilot to race with Dempsey last year at Le Mans, and his factory colleague, and LMP1 Porsche hybrid driver, Marc Lieb joined Dempsey, Foster and Andrew Davis at this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.

“To have the chance to bring this group back together completely intact and without any major team or personnel changes is an opportunity that doesn’t happen often,” said Long, who has GT class victories at Le Mans in his debut in 2004 and again in 2007. “We came very close last year to not only a podium but a victory, and Patrick and Joe drove incredibly well. I am ready to get to it, to just put our heads down and go after the class win.”

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.