Toyota leads as 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours reaches halfway point

Photo: Toyota

Although it’s been far from an epic first 12 hours in the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it’s been decent enough to keep things interesting.

The full live blog is linked here.

Class leaders at the halfway mark are:

  • Kamui Kobayashi (No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, LMP1 and overall),
  • Gustavo Menezes (No. 36 Signatech Alpine A460 Nissan, LMP2),
  • Matteo Malucelli (No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, GTE-Pro)
  • Khaled Al Qubaisi (No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR, GTE-Am)



The No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid and No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid have been the dominant cars overall and in LMP1, with the Toyota doing most of the leading courtesy of two brilliant stints from Mike Conway, along with co-drivers Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi. The Toyota is running a bit longer per stint while the Porsche is running shorter, but faster – that’s the divide.

Conway is maturing and has been arguably the early race star, while Sarrazin remains in search of an elusive Le Mans win. Kobayashi moves up to LMP1 this year after a prior start in a GTE-Pro Ferrari F458 Italia for AF Corse. Kobayashi leads Romain Dumas in the Porsche by 43.868 seconds.

The Porsche, driven by polesitter Neel Jani along with co-drivers Dumas and Marc Lieb, has been that manufacturer’s lone uninterrupted bullet. The No. 1 Porsche’s troubled 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season continued – high water temperatures and a garage trip have hurt the hopes for the trio of defending World Champions Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley.

The No. 5 Toyota has been a suitable back player and could sneak a podium but hasn’t been a star on outright pace as yet.

Meanwhile the pair of Audi R18s have each had trouble (gravel trips, turbocharger changes and nose changes) and they’re a bit behind on pace – down a second and a half to two per lap.

The hope for a privateer podium upset hasn’t really come together as yet, with only the No. 13 Rebellion R-One AER running untroubled and the second Rebellion and ByKolles have hit issues.


As expected, the Oreca 05s and Alpine A460s have been the cars to beat. The Signatech Alpine No. 36, driven by open-wheel ex-pats Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi with defending LMP2 winner Nicolas Lapierre, leads at half distance by 20.678 over the No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca 05 of Ryo Hirakawa, Pierre Thiriet and Mathias Beche.

The pair of G-Drive Racing entries – both the No. 26 Oreca (Rene Rast, Will Stevens, Roman Rusinov) and the No. 38 Gibson 015S (Jake Dennis, Simon Dolan, Giedo van der Garde) have also contended, while Strakka Racing and the pair of SMP Racing BR01 Nissans have hung in there.

American teams have had an interesting go of it. Suspension damage and a spin sidelined the hopes for Tequila Patron ESM’s best car, the No. 31 Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Ryan Dalziel, Pipo Derani and Chris Cumming, while the No. 30 car sustained an early race hit from another car and has never contended. Michael Shank Racing has fought on despite an in-race five-minute penalty for an earlier in the week engine change and a puncture, with Laurens Vanthoor, Ozz Negri and John Pew all showing well in the No. 49 Ligier JS P2 Honda. Krohn Racing has seen its eponymous and likable team owner/driver Tracy Krohn spin twice but without any damage, and he, longtime co-driver Nic Jonsson and Joao Barbosa soldier on in the Greaves Motorsport-operated No. 40 “Krohn Green” Ligier JS P2 Nissan.

KCMG, which won this class last year, has retired.


The story, simply, here, is Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. The question from here is whether the three remaining Ford GTs in contention – the two U.S. entries (Nos. 68 and 69) and the one untroubled UK entry (No. 66) have the reliability to match their undoubted, unquestioned and unrivaled pace.

IndyCar aces Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon ran 1-2, but it’s been the more usual sports car veterans – Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand, Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe – who’ve primarily carried the weight in the first half of the race. Hand, in particular, has stood out.

The only car remotely in the same galaxy to the Fords is a Ferrari, but not either AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE. The No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, and Matteo Malucelli – the latter who actually led at half distance by 49.954 seconds over Ryan Briscoe in the No. 69 Ford – has been a capable manufacturer rival, albeit the only one realistically close on pace thanks to the controversial Balance of Performance in class.

Corvette Racing has been eternally scrappy despite its lack of pace, the same true for Aston Martin Racing which has pressed on but never been a factor. It’s been a nightmare for Porsche, without pace or reliability and the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR having lost an engine and retiring – thus taking defending race winner Nick Tandy along with IMSA GT Le Mans title winner Patrick Pilet and rising French factory star Kevin Estre out of the race. The No. 92 Porsche was also a retirement just past the halfway mark.

Also of note, the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari, which won the first two FIA WEC races with Sam Bird and Davide Rigon, is out after Bird reported a broken rim on the car. That will alter the full-season points beyond just this race. Also out here is the team’s third driver, Andrea Bertolini.


It’s been a great scrap in the least heralded of the four classes at Le Mans. The No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR led at the halfway mark with Khaled Al Qubaisi ahead of NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell in the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia by 42.1 seconds.

Clearwater Racing has also been in the mix with its Ferrari, and there may be more cars to figure as the race goes on. The WeatherTech Porsche was the first retirement.

Garage 56

Still running is the inspirational SRT41 by OAK Racing Morgan Nissan, the invitational entrant, featuring quad amputee Frederic Sausset with coach and co-driver Christophe Tinseau and third driver Jean-Bernard Bouvet.

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew, personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She initially was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing — but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving,” Grisham said. “It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”