Le Mans: Rolling blog for the 2015 24 Hours

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LE MANS, France – Hello from Circuit de la Sarthe, where either I or my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith will be filing updates as it goes throughout the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

1:00 p.m. CET: Drama in GTE-Pro. What was shaping up as a classic fight between the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia and No. 64 Corvette C7.R may have lost one of its contenders. Toni Vilander pitted the Ferrari with just under two hours to go with some apparent rear end damage, after exiting Mulsanne corner. The car is in the garage and it will lose several laps.

11:00 a.m. CET: Just a quick bit now: The track has been declared wet. So with four hours to go, anything can happen.

Porsche runs 1-2. KCMG, Corvette and Aston Martin are the other class leaders.

07:45 a.m CET: The fourth safety car of the race is out for an accident at the exit of the Porsche Curves, involving Roald Goethe in the No. 96 Aston Martin Vantage V8.

Goethe was ceding the road to allow a faster prototype through, but ran wide and then into an unprotected concrete barrier.

About 25 minutes after the accident, Aston Martin tweeted this out on Goethe’s status, confirming he is conscious but going to the medical center:

07:00 a.m CET: Now with 16 hours in the books, things had been fairly uneventful over the night, until Marcel Fassler just had an issue.

Some damage has struck the rear assembly and engine cover of the No. 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, and the car has gone into the garage for repairs.

The other issue of note that has occurred overnight affected the then-GTE-Pro leading No. 99 Aston Martin Vantage V8, driven by Fernando Rees. Following a brake change, Rees contacted Tristan Gommendy’s No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca 05 Nissan going into the first chicane, which took Gommendy out of the race and sent Rees back into the garage for repairs.

More to follow soon after a coffee…

03:00 a.m CET: 12 hours down, 12 to go at Le Mans – and it is Porsche who remains in control following a sensational display from Nick Tandy in the no. 19 car as night has fallen.

At the halfway stage in the race, the Briton leads the field by over one minute following a string of quick stints in the 919 Hybrid, leaving the closely-knit Audi pair of Marco Bonanomi and Andre Lotterer in the no. 9 and no. 7 respectively scrambling to find time and cut the deficit at the front of the field.

KCMG’s advantage at the front of the LMP2 field took another hit in the 12th hour of racing as the team was forced to pit and replace one of the LED lights on the right-hand side of the car. Remarkably, the no. 47’s lead was such that it was able to take a three-minute stop and still emerge with a lead of almost a minute over the Thiriet car in second place, with G-Drive’s no. 26 bearing down on the French trio for second place.

The GTE Pro battle has boiled down to Corvette and Aston Martin, with the no. 64 and no. 99 cars trading top spot in class multiple times over the past few hours. At the time of writing, the advantage currently lies with Tommy Milner in the Corvette, but with the no. 51 AF Corse car also on the lead lap, the fight is still wide open.

GTE Am remains closely fought between Aston Martin Racing’s no. 98 and the SMP Racing no. 72, with Victor Shaytar recently taking the lead in the latter car after AMR’s 12th pit stop.

00:00 a.m. CET: As Saturday has turned into Sunday, the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans has taken a big twist in the LMP1 and LMP2 classes after the leading cars were both hit with a stop/go penalty.

The stewards deemed the no. 17 Porsche of Mark Webber to have overtaken another car under yellow flags, prompting them to hand the leading car a one minute stop/go penalty and end the raging battle between the red Porsche and Audi’s no. 7 car at the front of the field.

Having been separated by just a few tenths of a second, both cars pitted on the same lap – Webber to serve his penalty, Marcel Fassler for a scheduled stop – before Porsche brought its car in again just one lap later for a full service. Timo Bernhard is now behind the wheel of the 919 Hybrid down in fourth place.

In LMP2, the KCMG no. 47 has seen its lead slashed after it fell foul to the same fate as Porsche, receiving a one minute stop/go penalty. Richard Bradley still leads the class, but the team’s advantage has fallen to just 1m20s at the front.

At the very head of the field, Nico Hulkenberg now leads the way for Porsche in the no. 19 car by six seconds ahead of Rene Rast in the no. 9 Audi.

11:00 p.m. CET: One of the Nissans, the retro-liveried No. 21 GT-R LM NISMO is behind the wall with the front of the car being looked at. The team had also indicated it was examining the clutch and rear suspension. The sister No. 22 car has had a sensor replaced under the hood.

Meanwhile, an accident for the No. 36 Signatech Alpine A450b Nissan at the end of the Mulsanne into Mulsanne corner, has taken that car out of contention, although not officially out of the race. Paul-Loup Chatin was driving, and that’s put the race under its third safety car period at the eight-hour mark.

The No. 41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S Nissan is an official retirement (battery) and per Radio Le Mans, so to is the No. 50 Larbre Corvette, due to gearbox issues. The Larbre team had thrashed to repair the car for the start after a crash in morning warmup.

Rene Rast leads overall in the No. 9 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, with the top four cars in LMP1 (No. 9 Audi, Nos. 17 and 19 Porsches and No. 7 Audi) seeing their gaps neutralized by way of the safety car.

9:00 p.m. CET: At the six-hour mark, one of the top sleepers in LMP2 – the No. 34 Ligier JS P2 Honda driven by Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Chris Cumming – is back in the pit lane after an off by Cumming on the run to Indianapolis. Cumming locked up the left rear on corner entry – it may have been driver error but it also looked as though something may have snapped – but the car went into the gravel and limped back to the pits.

A battery issue has affected the No. 41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S Nissan, driven by Gary Hirsch, and the car stopped past the Dunlop chicane. The No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P2 Honda returned to the track after losing 10 laps in the garage with an oil adjustment.

Perhaps the bigger issue in LMP was for LMP1 driver Anthony Davidson, one of the defending FIA World Endurance Championship champions, who admitted to a mistake in the No. 1 Toyota TS040 Hybrid when speaking to Radio Le Mans.

“I was pushing hard in the Porsche Curves and just got my timing wrong. I made a mistake,” Davidson told Radio Le Mans. “I tagged a Ferrari. Timed it wrong. Just trying to carry momentum. Damaged the right front bodywork. Made the balance too hard to drive.”

Tommy Milner exited his No. 64 Corvette C7.R after a stellar stint himself, albeit one that wasn’t entirely comfortable.

“Certainly there were moments having a lot of fun in the car,” Milner told Radio Le Mans. “When the car feels good, it’s nice for us drivers to push the limit. I wasn’t having too much fun. I had to go to the bathroom early and that was quite painful. But the battles on track made up for it.”

Appears as though Milner has made up for it post-his stint, courtesy of this pic posted by Corvette Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe:

The leader after six hours? A one Mark Webber, now having taken over from Brendon Hartley, then Timo Bernhard in the red No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

7:15 p.m. CET: We’ve got some great lead battles. It’s on like Donkey Kong between Brendon Hartley in the No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 9 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the latter running laps as fast as the 3:18 and 3:17 ranges, which are new lap records.

Meanwhile there’s been a titanic four-car, three-manufacturer fight in GTE-Pro between Corvette, Aston Martin and Ferrari. Tommy Milner, Fernando Rees, Darren Turner and Davide Rigon have all been in the fray.

LMP2 and GTE-Am have been less eventful thus far, with the No. 47 KCMG Oreca 05 Nissan and No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari F458 Italia, respectively, controlling the race up front.

6:00 p.m. CET: The No. 8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the second Audi with an issue in the third hour, this time as Loic Duval had contact with Giancarlo Fisichella in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia on the run to Indianapolis.

Duval went to the far inside on the right approaching a slow zone, trying to avoid three or four other cars that were slow in the slow zone, but carried too much speed into the portion of the track. The right front of Fisichella’s Ferrari collected the left rear of Duval’s Audi, which pitched the Audi back across the road and into the barrier.

Duval continued, sans nose assembly, made it back to the garage and pitted for a new nose assembly. The car returned to the track one lap down, with Lucas di Grassi now driving, after less than 10 minutes in the garage.

5:30 p.m. CET: A puncture for the No. 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, driven by Andre Lotterer, has cost the team about 40 seconds for an unplanned fourth stop of the race.

Lotterer had scythed his way up to the lead during the second hour, and was leading in this instance when he pitted unexpectedly.

The stop means the Nos. 17 and 18 Porsche 919 Hybrids are back to first and second overall.

4 p.m. CET: The first hour is in the books with Porsche leading, in the form of Timo Bernhard in the No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid, although the race is now under a safety car for a three-car incident involving the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR, the No. 42 Strakka Racing Dome S103 Nissan and No. 13 Rebellion R-One AER.

The Dome appeared to contact the Porsche and also hit the Rebellion in the process. Patrick Pilet, in the Porsche, made it out of the first chicane at the Mulsanne but unfortunately his car was set ablaze. He ground to a halt, and exited the car under his own power.

Other class leaders at the one-hour mark included Tristan Gommendy (No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca 05 Nissan, LMP2), Nicki Thiim (No. 95 Aston Martin Vantage V8, GTE-Pro) and Andrea Bertolini (No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari F458 Italia, GTE-Am).

2 p.m. CET:  The quick note before the race is that the field looks like it may drop by one. The No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, driven by Gianluca Roda, crashed in the morning warmup and was not on the pre-grid as of 2 p.m. local time, less than an hour before the race start at 3.

If that car fails to start, it will leave the field at 54 cars. The factory No. 63 Corvette C7.R was withdrawn after its accident on Thursday.

More to follow throughout the day.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”