Montoya on his car on reds: “What the hell happened?”

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It’s not often we write that Juan Pablo Montoya has missed the Firestone Fast 6, let alone fail to get out of his first group, since the introduction of manufacturer aero kits prior to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Since 2015, prior to today, Montoya has only started outside the top 10 three different times: Barber (qualified 15th), the Indianapolis 500 (15th) and Pocono (19th).

Of course that worked well at the latter two events – he won Indy and finished third at Pocono.

But at Barber, he only ended 14th.

He’ll have an even higher mountain to climb on Sunday for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) starting from 21st and last in the 21-car field after his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet didn’t click with Firestone’s red alternate tires in qualifying.

Still, Montoya was diplomatic more than short when it came to describing his tough day at the office.

“It was OK but normally the reds come in really good and they go away really fast,” Montoya said. “For me they came in OK but they just stayed there. I could run the same lap times over and over again. It is not normal. I had too much understeer in the car and we’ve been fighting it all weekend.

“I felt like this morning where we needed to be for qualifying but we put the reds on there and I was thinking, ‘What the hell happened?’”

Additionally, Montoya didn’t rule out strategy helping bring him to the front on Sunday.

“Yeah but you can go with different strategies to try and get something done. You can’t give up. It was a tough thing qualifying today but we’ll move on.”

Montoya’s 21st place qualifying is the first time in four races this season that a single Team Penske driver has qualified outside the top 10.

Oriol Servia started 22nd and last in St. Petersburg after deputizing for Power, who qualified on pole but was ruled out on medical grounds.

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.