Photo: Tony DiZinno

Barber weekend, Friday notes for IndyCar, MRTI, PWC

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Here are rolling updates and notes from Friday at Barber Motorsports Park, site of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series, Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge.

IndyCar first practice was LIVE on NBCSN from 12 p.m. ET (11 a.m. CT and local time), and ran for 75 minutes, with a 90-minute broadcast window. Click here for all broadcast times this weekend.

EVENT

  • It’s raining, and the event’s activities were on a hold. Pro Mazda qualifying is up next starting at 2:15 p.m.
  • Here’s a pic from the media center:

INDYCAR

  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is scheduled to have an announcement regarding its third car for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Saturday morning. Although it remains a mystery, as any of five driver names have been floated in regards to the seat, multiple reports out Friday identified Oriol Servia as the likely candidate.
  • On Thursday, Honda IndyCar drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Jack Hawksworth visited the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama auto assembly plant in nearby Lincoln, Ala. With approximately 4,000 associates, HMA has the capacity to build up to 300,000 Honda cars and trucks annually.
  • Also on Thursday, drivers Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi were hosted by Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. The drivers spoke with a group of Space Camp students about the similarities between space exploration and IndyCar racing with regards to the importance of STEM and teamwork. They also experienced simulation activities including the Orion mission to Mars, Multi Axis Trainer and Hanging Harness. We’ll have more on this to come throughout the weekend on NBC Sports. 
  • KVSH Racing team co-owner James “Sulli” Sullivan is not at Barber this weekend owing to another commitment, but explained what Europa is – which adorns Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 11 Chevrolet this weekend, in the same HYDROXYCUT livery as was on the car at St. Petersburg and Phoenix. “It’s the largest distributor of sports nutrition products in the country. They recently merged with Lone Star Distributing. Lone Star has been with us for a while – about five years – on both the Indy and GRC side,” Sullivan told NBC Sports. “So they’re in a primary position this week. They’re a huge customer for HYDROXYCUT, so it’s the same colors. They’re a very important partner. It’s a big thank you for their support.”
  • Here’s the new livery and some LED wheels on the No. 11 Europa car.

  • A new livery isn’t the only thing of note this session. Juan Pablo Montoya has a new helmet, a carbon helmet from Bell, which he is testing this session. The longtime Arai customer is TBD whether he’ll use this the remainder of the weekend.

  • Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud both had media availabilities this afternoon. Newgarden talked about the burden of expectations – when you’re the defending winner of an event, the biggest thing is that people expect you to do well. He also says he and the team need to qualify better and that’s been the biggest reason for their lack of success thus far this year.
  • Pagenaud said he and his No. 22 Team Penske team focused on race setup in the morning practice session that were tweaks they wanted to make following their most recent test here in March. He said it was a shame it’s raining, because that affected plans for the afternoon. He also reflected on his 2011 race here, when he filled in for Ana Beatriz at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. That performance along with two others helped propel him into Sam Schmidt’s team for 2012, ultimately for three years before joining Team Penske at the start of 2015.

PWC

  • Jon Fogarty was back on track in Friday morning practice in the repaired No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren 650S GT3. The crew got parts in the middle of the week, cleared customs, shot to leave Thursday afternoon and arrived Friday morning. The team tested here a couple weeks ago and was good to go. In first practice, Fogarty got the car dialed in and posted a best time of 1:24.614.
  • “At 4:15 on Thursday afternoon we loaded a repaired Red Dragon. Terry Wilbert, along with Russ Marr, Martin Fox, and the newest member of our team, Paul Hutton, put GAINSCO’s No. 99 car back together, following the damage sustained in practice at Long Beach,” team owner Stallings said in a release. “As they put the finishing touches on the fully repaired car, I was struck by the professionalism and commitment of this team of ours. If it wasn’t for their determination, the Red Dragon would have missed the Barber event. I am so proud of every one of them.”

  • Jade Buford took the win in a chaotic, part-dry, part-rain first GTS race of the weekend for Jon Mirachi’s Racers Edge Motorsports, driving the team’s SIN R1 GT4. Lawson Aschenbach (Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R) and Scott Dollahite (SDR Motorsports Lotus Evora) completed the podium, although most of the field did well to avoid incidents in the scheduled 50-minute race. Buford, making both his series and team debut, is the fourth winner in five GTS races this season.
  • Alvaro Parente ended fastest of the day in GT at 1:22.586 in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, over Adderly Fong in the No. 88 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 (1:22.858) and James Davison in the No. 33 Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (1:22.919). Michael Cooper led the afternoon session at a slower 1:23.831 in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R over Atlanta’s Andrew Davis in the No. 76 Calvert Dynamics Porsche 911 GT3 R and Fong.

MRTI

A mix of practice and qualifying sessions are occurring today before the first of six Mazda Road to Indy races this weekend, the USF2000 first race, from 4:30 to 5:10 p.m. CT and local time this evening. A weekend preview is linked here.

Following the earlier rain delay, the USF2000 race is now postponed a few minutes.

Here’s quick notes from the earlier sessions prior to the USF2000 race:

  • Indy Lights: While Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Hargrove fought through mechanical issues and posted only limited running, up front Schmidt Peterson Motorsports led first practice. The top four were separated by less than a tenth with SPM’s RC Enerson at 1:14.4437, with Kyle Kaiser (1:14.4452), Santiago Urrutia (1:14.4802) and Dean Stoneman (1:14.5187) all within 0.075 of a second.
  • Pro Mazda: Team Pelfrey gambled on running slick Cooper Tires for qualifying and it paid dividends, with Aaron Telitz earning pole for the first race of the weekend over Juncos Racing’s Garett Grist. Telitz’ best lap in the No. 82 car was 1:22.4664, just ahead of Grist at 1:22.4800. Telitz’s Pelfrey teammates, Weiron Tan and Pato O’Ward, were next up with Will Owen completing the top five.
  • USF2000: Prior to the first race, the Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing pair of Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin – each in search of their first win – have the front row. Jordan Lloyd (Pabst Racing), Victor Franzoni (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports) makes it five series sophomores in the top five spots on the grid.
  • USF2000, part 2: Thompson has dominated the first USF2000 race of the weekend with a flag-to-flag race win in the 30-minute, 22-lap race. The result also doubles as his first podium finish in the series. Franzoni was second, with Martin holding off a late-race charge from Gabin for third. Lloyd, who started third, fell to fifth place.

More to follow throughout the day.

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.