Photo courtesy of IMSA

Pagenaud, Pigot star among IndyCar drivers at Petit Le Mans

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The five-pack of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing at this year’s Petit Le Mans – newly crowned series champion Simon Pagenaud along with Spencer Pigot, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay – had interesting days at the office on Saturday.

The battle between Pagenaud and Pigot in the second half of the race over podium positions proved one of the highlights of the race.

Pagenaud didn’t even get into the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP until more than six hours of the 10-hour IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race were complete. When he did, he found himself racing Pigot, who was in his second Mazda Prototype of the day, this time the No. 70 car after the No. 55 had electrical issues and retired in the third hour.

Pigot, who has taken to the prototypes like a duck to water this year, passed Pagenaud not once but twice during the race. And he’d also battled intently with Ricky Taylor, his longtime friend in Orlando and occasional “karting driveway” rival.

The No. 70 car was poised for an overdue first podium finish of the year before heartbreak struck in the final 15 minutes of the race; a broken fuel injector contributed to a fire and a retirement for the car Pigot shared with full-season drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller.

It was a tough end for the last race of the current generation Mazda Prototype – which was homologated as a Lola B12/80 chassis and marked the last ever professional start for the venerable British constructor Lola Cars, which began in the 1950s before ending as a company in 2012.

“It was a joy to drive the car. Everything was working great. The engineers did an awesome job with the handling, and the Mazda engine was working fantastic for me,” Pigot said afterwards.

“I just had a lot of fun out there. I was able to battle with a lot of good guys – Simon [Pagenaud] and Ricky [Taylor]- back and forth a lot. It was clean, good hard racing. The team definitely deserved to be on the podium. They worked incredibly hard. It’s a shame what happened to the 55 car early in the race but everyone was out supporting the 70 – and that’s what Mazda’s all about. It’s a big family and I wish it had ended a little bit different.”

Pagenaud, meanwhile, had to account for the long wait time before his opening stint. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox entry finished fourth on the day, but one spot ahead of the sister Action Express car to secure Dane Cameron and Eric Curran the full-season championship.

“It was long. I hate waiting! But that’s part of the job what you do as the third driver,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports post-race. “It wasn’t easy because I had the sun coming down going into the night. Not an easy stint. Simon the engineer put me in a good situation. It paid off.”

The other three IndyCar drivers didn’t get their usual chance to start as much.

Sebastien Bourdais was part of the sister No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT that finished second in GT Le Mans in the car he shared with Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand.

A broken waste gate pipe slowed the progress of the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT shared by Scott Dixon with full-season co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, who were going for the championship. That car finished seventh.

A forgettable season for Visit Florida Racing was hamstrung by engine issues, and left Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 90 Corvette DP car he shared with Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens seventh in class.

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.