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IndyCar’s 2017 grid nearing completion after this week

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A few more dominos have fallen this week in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series silly season, with official confirmations of Juan Pablo Montoya staying with Team Penske and JR Hildebrand slotting into Ed Carpenter Racing.

Coupled with Takuma Sato’s impending move to Andretti Autosport (first reported by Motorsport.com’s David Malsher) and the likely cross-move which will follow of Carlos Munoz to A.J. Foyt Enterprises – a team which has not yet officially confirmed it will be switching to Chevrolet but is set to do so – there’s fewer question marks remaining.

This was the busiest week of action in the IndyCar silly season market since the run on confirmations from late September through mid-October.

Seats that are yet to be officially confirmed are the second Schmidt Peterson Motorsports seat, the fourth seat at Chip Ganassi Racing, and the second seats at both Foyt and Dale Coyne Racing. Carpenter’s seat in its second car for the road and street course races was termed as “still under consideration” in the Hildebrand anouncement this morning.

Mikhail Aleshin seemed set with SPM, and although this was announced in an IndyCar.com story and picked up by several other outlets – including this one – IndyCar.com later updated and clarified the story to say no deal has yet been reached by the two sides.

The status of the KVSH Racing team, whether it fuses into Carlin as has been rumored, also remains a question mark, although one car from whatever ownership structure gets finalized there is still expected. INDYCAR needs whatever the KVSH resolution is from a team standpoint more than KVSH needs INDYCAR; there’s been such a reduction in teams on the grid the last few years, that the last thing the sanctioning body needs is another one to depart.

Among drivers, we outlined the pros and cons list of each of the free agents a couple weeks ago.

There’s already a heavy American presence: Josef Newgarden, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Ed Carpenter, JR Hildebrand and Graham Rahal have been confirmed.

Plenty of other talented young Americans in RC Enerson, Spencer Pigot, Conor Daly and Sage Karam among others are ready and waiting in the wings, and at least two of those four appear at this stage to have a very good shot at joining the already announced drivers. Ed Jones, the Indy Lights champion, also needs a place to land for his three-race program.

Anyway, here’s the 2017 grid as it stands:

CONFIRMED:

  • Team Penske (Chevrolet): 1-Simon Pagenaud, 2-Josef Newgarden, 3-Helio Castroneves, 12-Will Power, TBA-Juan Pablo Montoya (Indy 500 only)
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda): 9-Scott Dixon, 10-Tony Kanaan, 83-Charlie Kimball
  • Andretti Autosport (Honda): 27-Marco Andretti, 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, 98-Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Herta Autosport)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevrolet): 20-Ed Carpenter (ovals only), 21-JR Hildebrand
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Honda): 15-Graham Rahal
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Honda): 5-James Hinchcliffe
  • Dale Coyne Racing (Honda): 18 or 19-Sebastien Bourdais

ANTICIPATED BUT NOT CONFIRMED BY TEAM:

  • Andretti Autosport (Honda): 26-Takuma Sato
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Chevrolet): 14 or 41-Carlos Munoz
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Honda): 7-Mikhail Aleshin

SEATS YET TO BE CONFIRMED

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda): 8-Fourth car
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Chevrolet): 14 or 41-Second car
  • Dale Coyne Racing (Honda): 18 or 19-Second car
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevrolet): 20-Second car, road and street courses only
  • KVSH Racing (Chevrolet): 11-First car

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.