Hinchcliffe and Chaves. Photo: IndyCar

Chaves back at Sebring as Pigot, Rossi set for first 2016 tests

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Among the driver story lines headed into this week’s two days of private testing at Sebring International Raceway, which serves as an unofficial road course spring training for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, are the debuts of Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi and the return of Gabby Chaves.

Pigot will make his test debut with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for the first time since being confirmed for at least a three-race program.

He’ll drive the team’s No. 16 Honda; the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion steps up after securing the Mazda Scholarship. Pigot has tested an IndyCar before, with Team Penske during the Indy Lights drivers test day at Sonoma last August.

Meanwhile, Rossi will have his first day ever in an IndyCar in the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Autosport, just over a week after being confirmed in the car previously fielded by Bryan Herta Autosport but still featuring the BHA crew and Herta as his strategist.

Andretti Autosport has already “welcomed” Rossi back to America – who’s been in Europe for the last eight years – with this quick video.

Lastly, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports confirmed Chaves will test for a second straight test, filling in for Mikhail Aleshin.

If Chaves and James Hinchcliffe get to continue as teammates into the regular season when it starts itself, they can look back at this rather hilarious selfie posted to the team’s PR rep’s phone as a starting point.

Beyond these three, teams and drivers expected to test tomorrow, on March 2, include:

  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Jack Hawksworth, Takuma Sato)
  • Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz, Alexander Rossi)
  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (Max Chilton, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball)
  • Dale Coyne Racing (Conor Daly, Luca Filippi)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (Josef Newgarden)
  • KVSH Racing (Sebastien Bourdais)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Spencer Pigot, Graham Rahal)
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe, Gabby Chaves)

You’ll note Team Penske isn’t on that list, but it is still testing at Sebring this week. Per a Team Penske spokesperson, the team moved its testing up to today for the quartet of Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

This week’s testing is the last for IndyCar before the season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, on March 13.

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.