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Reports: IndyCar closing on Watkins Glen race

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INDYCAR appears close to filling its vacant Boston gap on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule with a race at Watkins Glen International for Labor Day weekend, per multiple reports.

Mid-last-week, Autosport contacted Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles – head of INDYCAR’s parent company – who said that Watkins Glen and Gateway were leading candidates to replace the canceled Boston round, although no race was yet confirmed. Miles did tell Autosport’s Bruce Martin that a decision would likely be due next week.

And in a matter of hours this evening, the Watkins Glen appearing closer if not quite at the finish line stories are emerging, with Motorsport.com, RACER.com and USA Today Sports (via Indianapolis Star) all offering some variation of the “it’s close and it isn’t yet announced but it’s moving to that point” report.

Miles’ optimism is there and it appears any deal would need to see some form of communication this week between Watkins Glen track president Michael Printup and INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye. There’s also the matter of a Ferrari event on the Labor Day weekend, which the track has held for years, and how that fits into the equation.

IndyCar last had a six-year run at the track from 2005 to 2010. Our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell tossed a poll out last week asking where you’d want to go, and Watkins Glen was the favorite among the fans.

Meanwhile, there’s been a fair bit of testing at the newly repaved track this week. Per the track, Chip Ganassi Racing (with its two Ford GTs), Stevenson Motorsports (Audi R8 LMS), and BMW Team RLL (BMW M6 GTLM) have all been testing there today in advance of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship round the first weekend of June.

Richard Westbrook, who co-drove the No. 67 Ganassi Ford to victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Ryan Briscoe last week, as well as Andrew Davis, co-driver of the No. 6 Stevenson Audi with Robin Liddell, posted pics of the newly resurface tracks on Twitter.

As ever with INDYCAR, nothing is a done deal until the ink on the contract is signed, the check clears and the green flag drops, but there’s enough positive momentum emanating from these series of reports to where the likelihood of it happening is far higher than it was last week.

We ran a post last week suggesting possible Boston replacement options, and Simon Pagenaud also told NBC Sports during a conference call last week that he’d love to have Watkins Glen on the calendar.

“I hope we can replace the race. For sure, I’m thinking of Watkins Glen,” Pagenaud said. “I’ve never been there, but it looks like a beautiful track. It’s been repaved, as well, recently. That would be a good market and really cool track to go to.”

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.