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Le Mans 24: LMP1 car-by-car preview

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Reliability issues have headlined the story for the three factory teams, Porsche, Toyota and Audi, thus far this year in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Porsche and Toyota run in the 8 MJ class, Audi the 6 MJ class.

With the reduction in class size from 14 LMP1 cars down to nine this year – with each of the factory entries only at two cars apiece – there’s the potential of a surprise result.

Here’s quick car-by-car previews:

1-Bernhard/Webber/Hartley, Porsche Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid (M) 

Much to prove for the defending World Champion trio at Le Mans who look to go one better after a hard-luck runner-up finish here last year. Hartley’s mistake at Silverstone was regrettable but one he atoned for. Still though after that retirement and the barely finish at Spa it’s been a tough start to the season. Battery change to revert back to 2015 package is an interesting element for Porsche.

2-Dumas/Jani/Lieb, Porsche Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid (M)

It’s been a better start for the No. 2 crew this year having inherited the win in Silverstone, and then ending second at Spa despite running largely without a functioning hybrid system. Jani enters as the track record holder after his blistering pole last year. Currently have the upper hand in the inter-team Porsche battle and a good result here, with double points, could confirm that for the rest of the year.

4-Trummer/Webb/Kaffer, ByKolles Racing Team, CLM P1/01 AER (D)

Not a ton to forecast here for what is likely to be a race of its own, down on outright pace compared to fellow LMP1 privateers Rebellion Racing and ahead of the LMP2 runners. Kaffer, in his first start in this car this year, is the likely pace standard-bearer with Webb and Trummer hoping to impress in their stints. A finish is the first goal here.

5-Davidson/Buemi/Nakajima, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota TS050 Hybrid (M)

The leading Toyota has a likeable trio with two past World Champions in Davidson and Buemi, plus a past Le Mans polesitter in Nakajima. The new Toyota has borne a brunt of reliability issues this year though and sixth and eighth place finishes – the latter one at Spa seeing the car only just be classified – but looks to turn their season around this week.

6-Sarrazin/Conway/Kobayashi, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota TS050 Hybrid (M)

Perhaps down a very slight notch to the sister No. 5 car in terms of driver talent – Sarrazin’s the leading star here and few would begrudge him a first Le Mans victory – the No. 6 car has had the slightly better start to the season with a second in Silverstone before a DNF in Spa. Conway continues to adapt to LMP1 in his second full season while Kobayashi, the F1 veteran, has past Le Mans experience in GTE-Pro.

7-Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer, Audi Sport Team Joest, Audi R18 (M)

The three-time Le Mans-winning trio won on the road in Silverstone before their exclusion for the skid plank issue there. And with a litany of issues in Spa, they still don’t have a result of note in their pocket heading into this race. The car figures to be a rocket and the trio knows how to win here more than anyone else in the LMP1 field; that being said, reliability will be the telltale sign for the car now in the 6 MJ class.

8-Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis, Audi Sport Team Joest, Audi R18 (M)

Audi’s new breed – who entered in as replacements for Capello, McNish and Kristensen in successive years – appears ready to win now. They got the first win for the new R18 at Spa and the trio has bonded as a unit. Like their sister car, how they go at Le Mans will more dictated by reliability instead of outright pace, because that’s not in question.

12-Prost/Heidfeld/Piquet, Rebellion Racing, Rebellion R-One AER (D)

Bart Hayden’s squad is a scrappy one and Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld have the reputation of punching above their weight at Le Mans. With potential reliability gremlins looming for the LMP1 contenders, this is the most experienced lineup of two that Rebellion fields to score an upset podium this weekend.

13-Tuscher/Imperatori/Kraihamer, Rebellion Racing, Rebellion R-One AER (D)

Like the sister car, the No. 13 Rebellion car boasts the potential to punch above its weight if the reliability is there. Though you wonder if with podiums in Silverstone and Spa, the former coming after the No. 7 Audi’s exclusion, the No. 13 car’s luck has already run out? In Tuscher, Imperatori and Kraihamer here’s a young but determined trio of drivers, albeit a bit down on relative Le Mans experience.

3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

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