(Photo courtesy NHRA)

2016 NHRA season in review: Funny Car driver Matt Hagan

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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Funny Car driver Matt Hagan:

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Driver: Matt Hagan

Age: 34

Hometown: Christiansburg, Virginia

Team: Don Schumacher Racing

Sponsor/car: Mopar/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger

Crew chief: Dickie Venables

2016 season finish: Third in Funny Car.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 4 wins, 2 runner-up, 5 semifinals, 8 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier five times. Round-by-round record: 40 wins, 20 losses.

Career statistics: 192 races, 22 wins, 20 runner-up, 28 semifinals, 62 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 26 times. Round-by-round record: 265 wins, 166 losses. Four DNQ. Won NHRA Funny Car championships in 2011 and 2014.

What went right in 2016: Hagan was once again a Funny Car force to be reckoned with this past season. His four wins put him in position to contend for the championship before fading in the latter stages of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff. … Hagan has been a machine when it comes to reaching the winner’s circle in recent seasons: He won four races each in 2016, 2015 and 2014, and five wins in 2013, giving him 17 of his 22 career wins in the last four seasons.

What went wrong in 2016: Hagan suffered five first-round losses in the season, which greatly impacted his ability to overtake eventual champ Ron Capps. … After winning at Indianapolis, Hagan struggled in the Countdown at times, particularly the first two races, where he failed to advance past the quarterfinals at Charlotte 2 and St. Louis. While he won at Dallas, which gave him a boost of hope, he lost in the semifinals at Las Vegas 2 and in the first round of the season-ending race at Pomona, ending any hope of a third title.

What to look for in 2017: From a statistical standpoint, Hagan is due for a third championship in 2017 – if you consider that his first two titles came in 2011 and 2014, separated by two seasons in-between. Since it now has been two additional seasons since his last title, Hagan has at least a statistical edge in 2017, if you believe in those kinds of things. … With teammates Ron Capps (2016 NHRA Funny Car champion), Tommy Johnson Jr. (finished second) and Jack Beckman (finished fifth), Don Schumacher Racing promises to have yet another strong season in 2016 – and Hagan will likely be right in the middle of that effort.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.