WEC: Audi no. 7 victorious again, defeating Porsche at Spa

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Audi secured its second win of the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday after seeing off Porsche in a race-long battle for the second round in a row.

The no. 7 Audi of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer once again found itself embroiled in a battle with the no. 18 Porsche of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas, but emerged victorious by 13.4 seconds after six hours of racing at Spa.

Porsche had locked out the top three positions on the grid in qualifying, with the no. 17 of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard retaining the lead from pole position for much of the first hour.

However, for the second race in a row, the trio hit trouble, forcing them into a lengthy pit stop that dropped them out of contention for the race win.

The no. 18 Porsche did appear to be in control of the race, but some strategic brilliance from the Audi crew allowed the no. 7 to get back into contention, resulting in a fine on-track battle between the two cars.

In the end, it was the no. 7 that won out, giving Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer a perfect start to the WEC season heading to Le Mans with the low downforce-spec Audi in six weeks’ time.

In spite of the problem on the car, the no. 17 drivers managed to fight back to finish third and give Porsche a double podium finish. The German marque’s third car, driven by Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg, fought back to finish sixth despite sustaining damage in a clash with a GT car on-track in the first hour of the race.

Audi’s third car, the no. 9 of Filipe Albuquerque, Rene Rast and Marco Bonanomi, came home in fourth place ahead of Toyota’s no. 2 car. Both teams suffered problems on their remaining cars, leaving them seventh (no. 8 Audi) and eighth (no. 1 Toyota) at the end of the race.

In LMP2, Jota Sport made an impression in its first race of the 2015 WEC season by claiming a class victory. Simon Dolan, Mitch Evans and Harry Ticknell finished one lap ahead of G-Drive’s no. 28 car, having seen their biggest contenders – the no. 26 G-Drive – suffer an engine issue.

Aston Martin Racing, AF Corse and Porsche Team Manthey enjoyed another spirited fight in the GTE Pro class, with the battle between AMR’s no. 99 and AF Corse’s no. 51 go down to the final hour. However, spectators were denied a fight to the flag between the two cars when the Ferrari was handed a one minute stop-go penalty for breaking pit stop procedure.

This allowed the no. 99 of Richie Stanaway, Alex MacDowell and Fernando Rees to clinch its first win of the season, finishing 29 seconds clear of the no. 92 Porsche in second place. The German marque secured another double class podium result with the no. 91 finishing third.

Aston Martin doubled up in the GTE Am class as the no. 98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda claimed its second win of the season, finishing almost one lap clear of AF Corse’s no. 83. SMP Racing finished third, making the podium a repeat of that at Silverstone.

The WEC paddock reconvenes in June for its highlight event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which takes place on June 13-14.

Graham Rahal tries to get up to speed in IndyCar iRacing Challenge

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Although he’s just 31 years old, Graham Rahal has been driving an Indy car since the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he still a teenager.

When it comes to the virtual world, however, Rahal is an admitted “newbie.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver hopes to get up to speed in time to be competitive in Saturday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama virtual race. It’s part of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge and will be televised live by NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

The six-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner got his virtual racing rig before last week’s American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International but was still learning the nuances of the iRacing platform. He started 12th and finished 14th out of 25 cars in the contest. The first 12 finishers were on the lead lap. Rahal was one lap down.

“I had never done it before,” Rahal said Friday. “At least it probably had been 10 years since I had driven any sort of sim. It’s addicting…rather addicting. Second of all, it’s bad for your marriage, but it’s a great way to kill a day of quarantine.

“But I think it’s been a big challenge just to get used to the way that you feel a car, the way that you drive a car in the sim, it’s all completely different than real life. To get used to that sensation, to get everything set up right is a huge part of it.”

Inside the cockpit of his No. 15 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal feels at comfortable in his own element. It has taken him time to find that comfort level in the virtual world.

“For me it has been a challenge to just figure out the right settings, what to do from afar, too,” Rahal said. “Obviously you don’t have anybody here (at his home) that plays iRacing or anything to help you firsthand. It’s been a bit of a challenge; but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Next up is Barber Motorsports Park, which in the real world is a very challenging course but it puts on some of the best road course racing on the real IndyCar schedule. Rahal believes it will also be quite a challenge on iRacing.

“I think Barber is going to be actually more difficult than Watkins Glen,” Rahal said. “The track has a little bit less grip than Watkins Glen did last week. Although everybody was still crashing at Watkins Glen, I think you can get away with more than what you can at Barber. In real life it’s that way, too.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be fun.”

Rahal is married to former drag racing star Courtney Force. Both are playing it safe by staying home by statewide order from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. But Rahal still has to find the balance between husband and virtual race driver.

By contrast, some of the other IndyCar drivers are spending 10-12 hours a day practicing on iRacing.

“That’s the challenge,” Rahal said, responding to a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I could definitely spend way more time on it. My line to Courtney is, ‘Just give me two laps.’ Then, one hour and 45 minutes later I’m still sitting there. It’s frustrating.

“As Robbie Wickens said, the frustrating part is you go out, you put in a good lap, then it’s, ‘I need to go beat that.’ You spin and you spin, and you spin. Then you get mad. The competitiveness in you, two more laps, two more laps. You try to go and go and go.

“You sit there for hours and hours and hours.”

Rahal admits he can’t stay away from iRacing for long. He is genuinely curious and interested in seeing what the competition is doing.

“I go on pretty frequently to see what’s going on,” Rahal said. “A lot of guys are on all the time. Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais has been on a load, Tony Kanaan, Willie P (Will Power). I think everyone is enjoying it. But it’s a huge challenge.

“There are a couple of guys that are clearly quicker than everybody else, Will being one of those. I’m trying to figure out where and how to find the lap time. I’m telling you, it’s so different than reality in that way.

“But it’s been fun, man. I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s good for the exposure, good because people are paying attention. You can see it on our Instagram. If you look at the clicks or page views in the last seven days, they’ve been doubled since we started to do this stuff. While it’s great for that, it also does help kill a ton of time.”

These are unique times as the world has essential shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more humans are testing positive of the potentially deadly virus, the threat becomes more real.

It has also created a tremendous void as people try to find something to do to pass the long times of isolation.

By giving race fans a few hours of entertainment, even if it is virtual instead of real, then Rahal believes it’s worth it.

“I think a lot of people are just dying for something to do, something to watch,” Rahal said. “The competitiveness in all of us wants to see some sort of sport.

“I know there are other buddies like hockey players that are watching it because they just want to watch something. They need something to do. So, I think that’s a big part of it.

“I think it’s great that NBC Sports is covering it this weekend other than just being online. I think it will be tremendous to see how that turns out.

“This is very realistic. When you see the cars on track, you watch a replay, see the photos, it’s eerily real looking. I did a race at St. Louis last weekend. It was extremely entertaining I think for the drivers that were participating. Other than 400 yellow flags, which happened early in the race, it was really, really entertaining to be a part of. People who watched that race would have loved the show that they had been seeing. I think there’s a lot of realism to it.

“I think it’s also people just want something right now. The desire and the demand is there to log in or tune in and see something competitive on TV.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500