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Porsche weathers the storm to claim FIA WEC victory in Mexico

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Porsche’s no. 1 crew of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley weathered a turbulent 6 Hours of Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to claim their second win of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season.

In a race that saw all of the leading LMP1 manufacturers suffer setbacks across the course of the six hours, Porsche’s no. 1 919 Hybrid saw off the challenge from Audi to claim the first WEC victory in Mexico City.

After locking out the front row of the grid on Saturday, Audi looked ready to take the fight to Porsche in the race, and duly delivered in the early stages as Lucas di Grassi led in the no. 8 R18 after the first hour.

Porsche hit the front at the halfway stage just as a rain shower hit the circuit, prompting each team to keep an eye on the sky and change its tires accordingly.

The no. 1 car was hit with a stop/go penalty after crossing the pit entry line before bailing out at the last minute, handing Audi the advantage.

However, a brake failure for Oliver Jarvis while behind the wheel of the no. 8 Audi in the fourth hour sent the car into the wall, dashing its hopes of victory. Although Audi was able to patch up the car and send it back out, further issues resigned the no. 8 to the garage after 166 laps.

A tire battle ensued at the front between the no. 1 Porsche and the no. 7 Audi, Andre Lotterer piloting the latter with fresher and more suitable tires that saw him pull Bernhard in at around five seconds per lap.

Bernhard’s lead fell to under 20 seconds as he tried to make it through a wet-tire stint before switching back to slicks to stay on-strategy. The German was handed a reprieve when Lotterer locked up, hitting the wall and losing 30 seconds in the process.

A late rain shower threatened Porsche’s advantage late on, with Audi banking on a late splash-and-dash for Lotterer in the no. 7 car. The German marque rolled the dice, fitting him with intermediate tires with 12 minutes remaining to place pressure on Bernhard at the front.

With five minutes to go, the pressure on Porsche almost tolled. Coming out of the stadium section, Bernhard slid off the track after hitting the curb, kissing the barrier. Although the incident did not damage the 919 Hybrid, it allowed Lotterer to close in by 20 seconds.

After completing the final few laps in a tentative manner, Bernhard crossed the line after six hours of racing to secure the no. 1 crew’s second win of the season following last month’s success at the Nurburgring.

Lotterer brought the no. 7 Audi home in second place, while Toyota completed the podium with its no. 6 car after an impressive final stint from Stephane Sarrazin.

LMP2 saw the RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan claim a memorable home victory, putting the Mexican flag on the top step of the podium. Early incidents saw the no. 43 car shared by Bruno Senna, Ricardo Gonzalez and Felipe Albuquerque drop back, handing the advantage to the no. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan.

G-Drive enjoyed a sizeable lead heading into the final hour, only for a dramatic brake failure with Rene Rast behind the wheel to scupper the Russian team’s hopes of victory, dropping it outside of the points.

This left the RGR Sport by Morand team to win the LMP2 class, with the no. 36 Signatech Alpine entry finishing second as Extreme Speed Motorsports – rather aptly for a team sponsored by a tequila brand – rounded out the podium in Mexico.

GTE Pro saw Aston Martin and Ferrari engage in a fierce battle throughout the six-hour race, with the British marque emerging victorious with its no. 97 Vantage V8. Darren Turner and Richie Stanaway saw off the challenge of the no. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE, while the second AMR entry was third despite a trip into the barrier earlier in the race.

Abu Dhabi Proton Racing scored victory in GTE Am after a race-long battle with KCMG and AF Corse. An early crash ruled the no. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 out of contention for victory, leaving the no. 88 Porsche 911 RSR to finish a minute clear of the no. 83 AF Corse, with KCMG’s no. 78 finishing third.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”