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Rossi set to end America’s 2,982 day F1 driver drought

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2,982 days. That is how long it has been since an American driver last lined up on the grid to start a Formula 1 grand prix.

But on Sunday in Singapore, the drought will come to an end when Alexander Rossi makes his long-awaited grand prix debut for Manor.

Those 2,982 days (or eight years, one month and 29 days) have passed since Scott Speed started his final race for Scuderia Toro Rosso at the Nürburgring in Germany.

The 2007 European Grand Prix will be remembered as one of the most frantic race starts in F1 history. A heavy rain shower hit the Nürburgring on the first lap, turning the majority of the track into an ice rink as the drivers struggled for grip.

The rain arrived so quickly that most did not even have time to change tires, except for Marcus Winkelhock, whose only F1 start will forever be remembered for his spell in the lead of the race with backmarkers Spyker.

Speed was one of the drivers to fall foul of the weather, spinning off at the first corner on lap two. His race – and F1 career – ended in the gravel. An argument with Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost led to his sacking and replacement by 20-year-old Sebastian Vettel for the next race in Hungary. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, America’s relationship with F1 has hit peaks and troughs. The 2007 race at Indianapolis was the last at the Brickyard for F1, and the failure of the US F1 Team left many questioning whether the sport could ever crack the United States.

But in the past few years, so much has changed. And Rossi’s full grand prix debut is just the culmination of that all.

The return of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas has proven to be a huge hit, welcoming bumper crowds since debuting in 2012. The arrival of an American team next year backed by NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas is also huge for the sport’s profile in its perennial problem market.

An American driver is arguably the biggest coup, though. And although Rossi is only confirmed for five races with Manor, it is still a big breakthrough.

It ends the drought that – despite never getting near the 22 years between Speed and Michael Andretti’s last grand prix in 1993 with McLaren – has been cause for concern. For Rossi, it also puts him firmly on Haas’ radar for the future, as he will have the experience that the team said he was lacking before.

Speaking after qualifying in Singapore on Saturday, Rossi was somewhat downbeat with his performance, but was still very excited to be on the cusp of his grand prix debut.

“I’m pretty comfortable with the car and the circuit, but my target was to qualify ahead of my new teammate, so anything short of that is disappointing,” Rossi said, having qualified 20th behind Will Stevens in the sister Manor car.

“I was quick all morning, and in my first qualifying run, but I didn’t make the most of my second run; we didn’t improve enough.

“As for tomorrow, it’s going to be a tough race but I’ve waited a long time for this moment and I’m very excited to get started.”

He has waited a very long time. It’s what drivers dream of. It is what parents make sacrifices for and what gambles are taken for.

Come Sunday night in Singapore when the lights go out and the race begins, it will all have been worth it for Alexander Rossi.

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.