Could Long Beach provide the venue for Pagenaud’s first Penske win?

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – If there’s one track that immediately stands out as a place where Simon Pagenaud could get his first win with Team Penske, it’s Long Beach.

And if that lede reads similar to a post I did two years ago asking whether Long Beach could be the place to provide Pagenaud his first overall win in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s because it is.

No, Pagenaud hasn’t won in an IndyCar at Long Beach… yet.

But given Penske’s early season prodigious pace and Pagenaud’s Long Beach pedigree, there’s good reason to think the driver of the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet could be standing in Victory Lane come Sunday afternoon.

In 2006, a then 21-year-old, unheralded, but much longer-haired Frenchman made his U.S. debut on these same streets in the Formula Atlantic race, finishing fourth and sandwiched in-between fellow future IndyCar drivers James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal.

In 2010, Pagenaud pulled out an incredible last lap pass on Adrian Fernandez to win the American Le Mans Series race here, in a down-on-power HPD P2-spec prototype compared to Fernandez’s screaming Lola-Aston Martin V12 P1-spec car.

And in 2012, Pagenaud so nearly caught Will Power in the waning stages of the race as Power sought to save fuel. It marked his first career podium finish in IndyCar.

“For me it’s a special place,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk during Thursday’s media luncheon ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“It’s the first place I raced in America. For me, it’s where my career really began in the U.S.

“It’s a track I really like from a driving standpoint, and where I’ve had great success. Even on a bad day, we have had good success.

“I feel like it’s the start of the championship run. I’m with the best team now. So I’m really excited to get to show our pace.”

Last year, of course, the two nearly came to blows after Power contacted him at Turn 6.

Pagenaud has a more recent sparring partner in the form of Ryan Hunter-Reay, when the two collided last week at NOLA Motorsports Park. The subsequent contact that took both them and Sebastien Bourdais out of the race ended the race as a whole.

Pagenaud confirmed his chassis for this week is the same tub, fully repaired and ready to go this weekend.

“It looks brand new. And for proof, I just looked at it, and they waxed the skid under the car!” Pagenaud said.

After qualifying second and finishing fifth in St. Petersburg and starting fifth and losing the potential of a second straight top-five last week, Pagenaud looks to recover this weekend and is determined to secure his first win with his new team.

“That’s the goal. It’s gonna come,” Pagenaud said. “I’m actually not pressuring myself. It’s gonna happen. I can see it.

“We’re plenty fast. Not missing any pace. We just need the luck to turn for the 22 team, and we’ll be fine.”

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.