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Vasser, “Sulli” shooting for more wins, possible KVSH title in 2016

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If last year Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing proved one-car teams can be thorns in the side of the four-car behemoths from Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, then KVSH Racing is hoping that 2016 is its turn to upset the formbook and convert its undoubted potential into a similar RLL-type single-car title-contending run in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

You’re probably wondering how a team that’s only won four races in the last three years – Sebastien Bourdais’ two wins last year and one in 2014, and Tony Kanaan’s Indianapolis 500 triumph in 2013 – can pull that off.

The key, as team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan say (Kevin Kalkhoven is third team co-owner), is continuity in personnel and a reduction to the one-car effort with Olivier Boisson remaining as engineer.

“We wanted to keep two cars open for economies of scale on the financial side,” Vasser told NBC Sports at Phoenix International Raceway for the Test in the West last weekend.

“We talked about it all through the offseason. We had a couple options. But the last few years, the second car hasn’t lived up to what it could be financially and performance wise.

“We put everything behind the ‘11 arrow’ from the sponsor side. Then we always looked for the second car, whether it was (Sebastian) Saavedra or (Stefano) Coletti last year to really add to it, and it just didn’t. It seemed to suck everything away. We’re all pretty excited for just one car.”

Sullivan added to it, noting the team’s preparation throughout the winter even despite limited testing (just Road America and Phoenix).

“That’s certainly the plan. In all the interviews we had at the end of last season and in the offseason, this was a one-directional focus year for us,” Sullivan told NBC Sports.

“The car itself, I think, is probably one of the best cars we’ve ever built from a preparation perspective coming in, as far as how the car has been put together and been built, the weight savings and the fuel flow work.

“We’re probably putting one of the best cars on the track we ever have put on. And if you couple that with the fact that we have one focus, and that’s KVSH and all around Seb, and I’m hoping this is going to be a good season for us.”

Saavedra (21st in 2014) and Coletti (19th last year) both years finished as the last place full-time driver in points.

Bourdais has been a misleading 10th both of the last two years, because he’s had top-five potential.

Sullivan’s efforts this winter have been nothing short of tireless to even ensure the No. 11 HYDROXYCUT Chevrolet continued into 2016.

Some key changes within HYDROXYCUT meant a delay in the completion process, and Bourdais’ one-year contract extension was only finalized in the days leading up to the Phoenix test.

“It’s a one-year extension to what we have, and hopefully we’re able to add to that and build for multi years in the future,” Vasser explained. “But that’s going to come from us securing commercial partners to do so and then Sebastien deciding if he wants to stay with us and this is a team that he wants to be with in the future. It’s certainly a goal. We’re not ready to put him out to pasture.”

Vasser noted there’s still a lot of commercial partner continuity for 2016.

“It’s everything, really,” Vasser said. “We’re going on our eighth year with Plantronics; our seventh with GEICO; American Racing Wheels is another one we’ve had for a long time, and then having Mouser back on board after being gone a couple years. We won Indy with Tony Kanaan with a HYDROXYCUT and Mouser car. So that should be cool for the 100th running.”

Vasser said until the final four races last year, Bourdais was theoretically in title contention, hence the high hopes for 2016.

“For the season, first, we’re keeping the nucleus of our team together with Seb,” Vasser said. “We really believe we’re in a position to fight for the championship, for the first time, maybe, in the history of KV Racing.

“We won two races last year and one the year before. I think we can win four races this year.

“I really think… we were in the championship until Mid-Ohio. But we got caught out when they closed the pits.

“We just s–t our pants the last four races. Seb crashed at Pocono. Pocono was a disaster all around with (losing) Justin (Wilson).

“Then we were actually fifth in points until Seb got the penalty for hitting Rahal (at Sonoma), and at that point, we were fifth.

“We feel going into this year we can win the championship.”

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.