Le Mans: Corvette, Dempsey, Scuderia Corsa make for heavy American podium presence

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LE MANS, France – It was a banner day for the U.S.A. at the Circuit de la Sarthe this Saturday and Sunday.

Corvette Racing captured a popular, comeback, emotional and overdue victory in the GTE-Pro class, while five American drivers finished on the podium in the GTE-Am class.

For Corvette, the win came after a thrilling back-and-forth bout with its trio of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor in the No. 64 Corvette C7.R against the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella, the defending race champions.

But gearbox problems resigned the Ferrari to the garage in the second-to-last hour and Corvette emerged triumphant at the end of a trying week, where the No. 63 Corvette C7.R with Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe had to withdraw after an early week accident caused by a mechanical issue.

“I am proud of how the No. 63 and No. 64 drivers, engineers and crew came together to rally around a single Corvette C7.R entry for the race after Thursday’s unfortunate incident,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “They prepared thoroughly and had each others’ back all race long. Perseverance, teamwork and execution were keys to the winning effort.

“It was very emotional to be in the garage with the entire team when the checkered flag dropped,” he added. “The Corvette Racing team simply never gave up.”

Said Gavin, who won his fifth Le Mans and first in nearly a decade since 2006: “Winning Le Mans is always a fairy tale story. The way everything turned out over the week, with the No. 63 Corvette having its issues and not being able to start the race… the way the team all came together and led us into the race and enabled us to have this fantastic result today, it’s just amazing.

“It’s just been one of those days where you’re waiting for something to spring up, like another hurdle to come in your way to stop you from taking a victory. It was a spectacular race for Tommy and Jordan and myself – one of those events where you’re having great races with Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche but in the end we were the strongest car and we ended up coming away with victory. This is my fifth victory here at Le Mans, and I’m absolutely thrilled to come back here with Corvette Racing. I’m a very happy man.”

The GTE-Am, battle, meanwhile was shaping up to only see one American entry on the podium, but wound up with two.

A last hour crash for the class-leading and erstwhile dominant No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 promoted the No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari F458 Italia to the class lead, and brought both the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR and No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia onto the podium after their own scrap had been for third.

For Patrick Dempsey, it marked his first Le Mans podium in four attempts (2009, 2013, 2014) in the car he shared with past Le Mans class winner Patrick Long, Porsche’s lone American factory driver, and Le Mans debutante Marco Seefried.

Meanwhile Scuderia Corsa’s trio of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal podiumed in their Le Mans debut. Bell and Sweedler add the Le Mans podium to class wins at Daytona and Sebring.

Other American entries included Extreme Speed Motorsports and Krohn Racing in LMP2, both of which finished, while Riley Motorsports came up just shy of a finish in the final couple hours with gearbox issues on its mighty Dodge Viper GTS-R.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).