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Off season? What off season? 2017’s racing year starts next week

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The motorsport off-season is an ever-shrinking phenomenon.

While we’ve all enjoyed our fill of food and drink over the holiday period and enjoyed the other festivities that come with this time of year, those involved in racing will have been conscious that the new season is just around the corner.

And by ‘just around the corner’, I actually mean ‘next week’.

It doesn’t really feel like we’ve had much of a break from racing. The Formula 1 season came to a close in Abu Dhabi at the end of November, with the two weeks that followed then being consumed by the fallout from Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement.

Mercedes was then good enough to confirm that there would be no announcement until the new year, giving the media some respite over the holidays by removing the worry of Valtteri Bottas being named as Rosberg’s replacement while we were tucking into turkey.

But news has still been filing through in the meantime. Ferrari is already planning for 2017 by signing Antonio Giovinazzi as a third driver and confirming a date for its new car launch. Pirelli also got in on the act by confirming its tire picks for Australia and China.

Throw in announcements for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, more drivers signing up for the Race of Champions and even an IndyCar baby arriving, and you can see that December has still been a busy month for racing despite there being nothing of note on-track.

And so with January comes the start of another racing campaign, starting on January 2 with the fearsome Dakar Rally. Taking place in South America over a 12-day period, this battle of endurance will kickstart 2017 in motorsport.

Speaking of endurance, next weekend also marks the start of the American racing season with the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. The traditional three-day test ahead of the Rolex 24 will allow the field to dial in ahead of the twice-around-the-clock classic at the end of January.

Formula E also breaks from its winter slumber next weekend with the inaugural Vegas eRace, a unique event that will see the 20 regular drivers from the series go up against 10 of the world’s best sim racers for a prize pool totaling $1 million.

Besides the Rolex 24, the end of January will also see the Race of Champions take place in Miami, with drivers from a variety of disciplines going up against each other in a number of challenges for both individual and national honors.

Last year saw Sebastian Vettel take the drivers’ title in London, while Team GB was victorious in the team event. However, with a strong American presence from IndyCar, NASCAR and even rallycross in Miami, expect to see the star-spangled banner somewhere on the podium, if not the top step.

The European racing season may not truly burst into life until April, given the chilly climate, but the first major event takes place on the January 21-22 weekend with Rally Monte-Carlo, the curtain-raiser for the FIA World Rally Championship.

Following Volkswagen’s shock exit from the series, World Champion Sebastien Ogier has jumped ship to Ford’s M-Sport team. With new regulations and a number of rising stars in the series, the Frenchman will have a serious fight on his hands in his bid for a fifth title in 2017.

So as you can see, the off-season isn’t really ‘off’ at all. There’s always something going on – but would we have it any other way?

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.