Bomarito. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Bomarito leads Road America polesitters

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Three of the four polesitters for Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America captured their first IMSA (or American Le Mans Series) pole positions, since, ironically, past poles at Road America several years ago.

Jonathan Bomarito (Prototype), Dirk Mueller (GT Le Mans) and James French (Prototype Challenge) all secured their first pole positions of the season. The fourth class polesitter, Alex Riberas (GT Daytona) has a pole in his Road America debut.

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Bomarito’s is the third for the No. 55 Mazda Prototype, now back in its standard Soul Red color after two races in a throwback 1991 livery, but his first. Teammate Tristan Nunez has the other two at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Mueller, in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, has that team’s third this year (Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford at Watkins Glen International and Lime Rock Park). He also scored the overall pole for the FIA World Endurance Championship race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE-Pro class, in the No. 68 car. Mueller shares with Joey Hand.

French, in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 he’ll share with Kyle Marcelli, hustled his car around for his first pole since this race last year.

Bomarito took his last pole in 2013 here with the SRT Viper, and inherited the pole in 2014 at Circuit of The Americas after polesitter Patrick Pilet was disqualified following a post-qualifying technical infraction. Mueller’s last U.S. pole was in ALMS in 2011, here, with a BMW M3 for BMW Team RLL and Dunlop tires.

Bomarito promptly stomped the field in Prototype qualifying, on pole by more than one second at 1.152 seconds clear of Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (1:54.507 to 1:55.659).

The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP and second Mazda, the No. 70 car, completed the top four on the grid. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering-backed Action Express Corvette DP, which won this race last year with Dane Cameron and Eric Curran, complete the top five on the grid.

PC

French has scored a hometown pole in Prototype Challenge. The Sheboygan, Wis. native – he grew up less than a half hour away from the Road America track – has his fourth pole in his IMSA career and first this season for the Performance Tech Motorsports team, and he shares the No. 38 Oreca FLM09 with Kyle Marcelli.

French edged fellow open-wheel veteran Jose Gutierrez in the No. 7 Starworks Motorsport by just 0.075 of a second; a 1:59.133 lap was just ahead of Gutierrez’s 1:59.208.

Both drivers were here in June, French having made his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series debut with Belardi Auto Racing to add that car to the tens of thousands of miles he’s logged here in vintage F1 machinery and other types of cars. Meanwhile Gutierrez tested another open-wheel car to gain additional track experience, and it paid dividends.

Misha Goikhberg (JDC/Miller Motorsports), Matt McMurry (BAR1 Motorsports) and Robert Alon (PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports) completed the top five on the grid. All five drivers have either or possibly both of Mazda Road to Indy and Mazda Road to 24 experience.

GTLM

Dirk Mueller has taken the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT to the GT Le Mans class pole position for Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, which is his first pole since the American Le Mans Series/GRAND-AM Rolex Series merge and his first pole in North America in five years.

Mueller scored the pole at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the renumbered No. 68 Ford – a car that ultimately won the GTE-Pro race with co-drivers Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais – but this is his first pole back on U.S. soil.

His last pole on U.S. soil was at this same track, then in a Dunlop-shod No. 56 BMW M3 he also co-drove with Hand, in 2011 in the American Le Mans Series. That car also started on pole before the 2012 Long Beach street race via points, a qualifying session which was canceled owing to heavy rain.

With a best time of 2:02.451, Mueller banked a 0.461 of a second gap on defending class champion Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR in second, with the second Ford, the No. 67 qualified by Ryan Briscoe, in third.

Mueller shares his car with Hand, Pilet with Nick Tandy and Briscoe with Richard Westbrook. The points leading No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner will roll off from seventh in class.

GTD

Riberas took his third pole of the season in GT Daytona in the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, this time adding the Road America road course to other poles at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Coupled with Mario Farnbacher’s pole at Watkins Glen International, the No. 23 car has four poles in eight races.

Riberas had a full 0.239 of a second on the first of two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS entries in a row. The No. 6 car of Andrew Davis (he’ll share with Robin Liddell) edged the No. 9 car of Matt Bell (Lawson Aschenbach to co-drive).

The top Dodge and Ferrari were fourth and fifth, the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R (Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen) and No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 (Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan). All told the top nine in the 15-car class were separated by only 0.984 of a second, a very small margin at the 4-plus mile road course.

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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.