Le Mans: Aston Martin, AF Corse win in GTE; Jota Sport in LMP2

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One year ago at Le Mans, Aston Martin Racing endured through a dark day with the tragic death of Danish driver Allan Simonsen (pictured, last year prior to his fatal early crash at Tertre Rouge).

But today, their No. 95 team – the team that Simonsen competed for in last year’s 24 Hours – earned top honors in GTE-Am with the all-Danish driver lineup of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson, and Nicki Thiim.

Poulsen brought the No. 95 to the checkered flag with a two-lap advantage over the No. 88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR. The No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari was third.

It marks the second Le Mans win for Poulsen, who picked up an LMP2 victory in the 2009 race while driving the Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder. As for Thiim and DHH, it’s their first Le Mans win.

In the GTE-Pro class, AF Corse chalked up the win with Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, and Giancarlo Fisichella in their No. 51 Ferrari 458 Italia.

For a time, AF Corse’s fight with the Aston Martin and Corvette Racing camps in GTE-Pro was the highlight of the entire race itself. But they were able to outlast them both, with the No. 73 Corvette finishing second at one lap behind. The No. 92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR completes the Pro podium, two laps down.

And in LMP2, the No. 38 Jota Sport Zytek-Nissan held on by a slim margin after getting a final splash of fuel in the last half-hour of the race.

When Marc Gene was called in to drive for Audi after Loic Duval’s vicious crash, Oliver Turvey stepped in to help the No. 38 team and co-drivers Harry Tincknell and Simon Dolan. It was Turvey that wound up closing out the race for the No. 38.

Chasing them to the bitter end was the No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Ligier, which survived an instance of suspension damage with four hours remaining. Third place went to the No. 36 Signatech Alpine/Nissan.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.