Audi leads Le Mans test day courtesy of di Grassi

© Getty Images
0 Comments

Lucas di Grassi continued his excellent run of recent form to lead the timesheets in the no. 8 Audi R18 car on the sole test day ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

All teams and drivers were afforded eight hours worth of running at the Circuit de la Sarthe ahead of the race on June 18-19, with the next practice session taking place on June 15.

After seeing Porsche lead the morning session with its pair of 919 Hybrids in the LMP1 class, Audi bounced back in the afternoon as di Grassi took the no. 8 car to the top of the timesheets.

A fastest lap of 3:21.375 was enough to give di Grassi and Audi P1 at the end of the day, finishing eight-tenths of a second clear of the Porsche no. 1 car of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley.

The sister no. 2 Porsche followed narrowly behind in third place, while the no. 7 Audi finished fourth to ensure that the two Volkswagen Group brands locked out the top positions.

Toyota’s pair of TS050 Hybrid cars slotted into P5 and P6, the quickest finishing 1.8 seconds off di Grassi’s fastest time of the day.

The no. 33 Eurasia Motorsport entry topped the timesheets in LMP2 as Pu Jun Jin, Tristan Gommendy and Nick de Bruijn set the pace, finishing seven-tenths of a second clear of the no. 36 Signatech Alpine Nissan.

Chevrolet stamped its authority on the GT classes on Sunday in Le Mans as the no. 63 Corvette set the pace in GTE Pro, while the no. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette led the way in GTE Am despite being without regular driver Paolo Ruberti.

2015 race winner Nick Tandy made his return to the Circuit de la Sarthe on Sunday in the no. 91 Porsche 911 RSR entry in GTE Pro, finishing two-tenths of a second off the pace in P2. Fellow victor Earl Bamber finished narrowly behind in the second one-off Porsche factory entry for Le Mans.

Sunday’s running was cut short by 28 minutes following a crash for the no. 49 Michael Shank Racing Ligier driven by Oswaldo Negri. The driver reported that he was OK, but the damage to the barrier meant that the session could not be restarted.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.