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Kristensen: Le Mans clash a shame for F1 drivers

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LONDON – Nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen has called the provisional clash between the 24-hour race and the European Grand Prix in 2016 “a shame”, believing it will deny a number of Formula 1 drivers the chance to take part in the prestigious event.

Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg joined Porsche in the FIA World Endurance Championship for the 6 Hours of Spa before becoming the first current F1 driver since 1991 to win Le Mans.

However, the German looks unable to defend his crown in 2016 alongside Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber thanks to a clash between Le Mans and the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan on June 19.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk in London ahead of this weekend’s Race of Champions, Kristensen expressed his disappointment in the clash, believing that Hulkenberg would not be the only F1 driver keen to balance commitments in 2016.

“What’s lovely to see is a guy like Nico who in the season he was driving and was able to compete along with Bamber and Tandy,” Kristensen said. “They well deserved the victory, they were particularly strong at night.

“That’s something which I like to see. I think that just puts it a bit in fashion. Every Formula 1 driver, you ask them, they would all love to do Le Mans.

“It’s just the name of the industry at the moment. It’s difficult to combine these things. It’s a shame. It’s a big shame that it’s on the same weekend.

“WEC for me has always been around the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the hardest race, the most sexy race with the cars we have.

“So in that sense, I know what I would pick if I was a driver and you can have a longer career. I’m an older driver. Of course, these youngsters they will be and dream of going to Le Mans one time.”

Kristensen will be defending the Race of Champions Nations Cup title at London’s former Olympic Stadium on Friday, racing for Team Nordic alongside ex-WRC and current WRX driver Petter Solberg.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

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.