Le Mans: Pre-race post roundup, notes and quick race preview

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LE MANS, France – The week of practice and qualifying is in the books for the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Here’s links to all the pre-race posts as done on MotorSportsTalk this week:

POSTS

Seven cars handed post-qualifying grid penalties
Ford GT race program confirmed for FIA WEC, TUDOR Championship
Porsche retains pole, while No. 63 Corvette is withdrawn
Jani scores provisional pole with record lap
Audi’s Di Grassi retains Le Mans focus before Formula E finale
Webber protege Mitch Evans adapting well to sports cars
Le Mans 2015 class breakdown by car
GTE stunners and spoilers
Webber, Hulkenberg prepped for week ahead at Le Mans
Bell’s whirlwind tour takes him to Le Mans for the first time
Chilton mulling 2016 options ahead of Le Mans debut with Nissan
Meet the Americans at Le Mans
LMP2 stunners and spoilers
Mikhail Aleshin wants to return to IndyCar one day and “kick some ass”
Briscoe expected to continue in SPM IndyCar for rest of season
F1 veterans in the field
LMP1 stunners and spoilers

NOTES

  • Corvette Racing confirmed it was a piece of debris caught in the throttle mechanism that triggered Jan Magnussen’s accident. The inadvertent and unfortunate side effect of the accident, beyond the fact it’s the first withdrawal for the car in the team’s history at Le Mans, is it will now make a thrash for the crew to repair a second car for Watkins Glen on June 28.
  • Ford was undoubtedly the big talking point today at Le Mans. The program has been in the works for months, but only officially confirmed by the manufacturer this afternoon. Seeing Chip Ganassi in France might take some getting used to, but make no mistake: this is big news as Ganassi continues to expand his motorsports empire.
  • Friday is always a day of rest at the Circuit de la Sarthe in terms of on-track activity, but not in terms of final preparation for Saturday’s race. The field of 55 were still disassembling and reassembling their cars, as throngs of fans looked on from pit lane. Additionally, the parade in downtown Le Mans occurred today, and was a hit.

PREVIEW

Oh yeah, there’s a race this week too.

One of the fascinating elements about Le Mans week is that given the number of industry movers and shakers, events, press conferences and other aspects of the week is the race itself can be sometimes overshadowed going into race day. Regulations talk in the future has dominated the headlines this week.

At the front the story is rather simple: Porsche has a clear pace advantage over one lap. But with drivetrain and powertrain issues looming and having reared their ugly head in the past, will the lone hybrid contender in the 8 MJ subclass be able to avoid the reliability pitfalls that have sabotaged its chances in the past? On the mix of history, reliability and consistency, Audi enters as favorite this year although only by a whisker. Toyota may be laying in the weeds but its outright lack of pace all week means it looks like it will have to play the tortoise, rather than hare game, to have a realistic chance. Nissan must be targeting a finish, first.

In LMP2, the Ligier JS P2 Nissan should be the car to beat, with about four or five cars looming as spoilers and about the other 10 to 12 in class shooting for a podium or top-five. While the Oreca 05 Nissan has the class pole, this will be the car’s 24-hour race debut, and that traditionally doesn’t end in victory.

GTE-Pro will see the same storyline as usual – it’s anyone’s guess of Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and Corvette. Corvette now has the sentimental storyline of the No. 64 Corvette C7.R trying to win as the sole surviving American ground pounder, Ferrari looks for its usual encore and Aston is after its first win in GTE-Pro since the class came into being in 2011.

In GTE-Am, the No. 98 Aston Martin has been the car to beat this season and enters as clear favorite, although this traditionally becomes the hardest class to project beyond a single pace-setter due to the unpredictability of traffic.

It all begins at 3 p.m. local time in France tomorrow, with several options to watch or listen. Radio Le Mans will have radio coverage and the FOX Sports networks, via a mix of FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 and the FOX Sports Go streaming service, pictures. The FIA WEC app, while you have to pay for it, is also a very good bet.

And speaking of bets, if I were a betting man? I’d go Audi No. 7 again (an easy but safe pick), No. 28 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissan (even with two Le Mans rookies), No. 97 Aston Martin (overdue for a class win at Le Mans) and No. 98 Aston Martin (the clear favorite delivers).

Come Sunday afternoon, I can’t wait to see how on or off the mark those picks are.

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.