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Mario Andretti on IndyCar 2016: “It’s better than I’ve felt in years”


Yesterday, Mario Andretti turned 76.

Of course, age is just a number for one of North America’s greatest ever racing drivers, who remains one of this sport’s living legends and continual true ambassadors.

And, considering he’s seen so many seasons of IndyCar racing, over more than 50 years dating back to 1964 and then to his memorable rookie test at Indianapolis in 1965 taking over for a one Roger Penske, for him to be pretty optimistic about the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season speaks volumes.

Andretti joined son and Andretti Autosport team owner/CEO Michael Andretti and grandson and driver Marco Andretti at this week’s Test in the West at Phoenix International Raceway, not just observing but also driving one of the two-seater IndyCars.

He seems to like the direction the series is going, and some of the recent management changes made by the INDYCAR organization.

“I’m very happy with what I’m seeing right now. It’s been a long time coming,” Andretti told NBC Sports in an interview during the test.

“The staff that’s in place right now is really good, in my opinion. It’s experienced, and I see a lot of common sense. I think we’ll be great.

“Going into this season this year, it’s better than I’ve felt in years. That’s my personal opinion. You know I’ve been very critical in the past. But good things are happening.”

Just in the last two weeks, INDYCAR has hired Bill Pappas as Vice President of Competition, Race Engineering, and confirmed the three-person steward group of Chief Steward Dan Davis and additional Stewards Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk. Jay Frye has also been promoted to President of Competition and Operations this offseason.

The “critical” line Andretti refers to may be an indirect reference to his well-reasoned and memorable critique of Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, with the shortening of the IndyCar season.

In speaking to Andretti at the 2013 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Andretti told me then that the decision to shorten the 2014 season from ending in mid-October to early August was “not plausible.”

Two years later, Andretti’s been proven correct, and with paddock consensus generally agreeing with the point, the 2016 season will end in mid-September instead. Granted, TV ratings have gone up, but the tradeoff was the condensed calendar.

The schedule’s also more spread out this year so it isn’t necessarily a week-to-week thrash, as it was last year from before NOLA Motorsports Park in April through Toronto in June.

Andretti is also particularly keen on the return to Phoenix, where he won his 52nd and last race of his career in 1993 (pictured above).

“It’s huge for the series, because these are some of the venues that have been such a part of the series for so many years,” Andretti explained.

“Phoenix was so good for us. It was so good for IndyCar. It’s too bad we missed it for 10 years or more.

“But to be back is wonderful; we belong here.”

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

24 Hours of Le Mans
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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.