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SAFER barrier set for introduction at Le Mans

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The Circuit de la Sarthe is set for a safety upgrade ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans after plans to install the SAFER barrier was officially announced on Thursday.

The Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barrier has been used in American racing circles for many years, featuring on most NASCAR and IndyCar circuits after being developed in the early 2000s.

It was first implemented on a road course at Watkins Glen in 2010; it made its overall debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002, at that year’s Indianapolis 500.

SAFER barriers will now be installed at the Porsche Curves for Le Mans, offering drivers extra protection at one of the fastest sections of the circuit.

University of Alabama at Birmingham mechanical engineering professor Dean Sicking, who led a team of designers who developed the design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, formally announced the plans for Le Mans on Thursday.

According to the Associated Press, Sicking noted at the announcement that this year’s race at Le Mans will be the first time that two competing safety barrier solutions have been used at the same time.

TecPro barriers are more widely used in Europe and Formula 1, and have been used at the Circuit de la Sarthe since 2014.

The plans were intimated to NBC Sports across the course of the FIA World Endurance Championship race weekend at Spa-Francorchamps earlier this month, with sources saying that the installation of the SAFER barriers ensured that the layout of the famous Porsche Curves did not have to be revised.

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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