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Bottas debuts, McLaren and Red Bull struggle in F1 testing

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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Valtteri Bottas impressed in his debut drive for world champion Mercedes on Monday as the new Formula One pre-season got under way.

Bottas outworked the rest of the field with 79 laps during the morning session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. That total surpasses the 66 laps of the Spanish Grand Prix held at the same venue each season.

The 27-year-old Finn also owned the fastest time until Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel bettered Bottas’ best effort by 0.378 seconds.

Bottas, formerly of Williams, inherited the driver’s seat at Mercedes from world champion Nico Rosberg, who retired in December five days after clinching the title.

Bottas’ teammate and three-time former champion Lewis Hamilton will take over driving for the Silver Arrows during Monday’s afternoon session.

While Bottas and Vettel took turns churning out the laps under sunny and dry conditions, McLaren and Red Bull endured inauspicious starts to the new campaign.

Fernando Alonso’s McLaren was stuck in the garage following a sole trip around the track as its technicians reportedly tried to repair an oil-related problem with its Honda motor.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo didn’t do much better, getting through just four laps before his new RB13 car ground to a halt near Turn 4 because of what the team called “a sensor issue.” The stranded Australian was ferried back to the boxes under a red flag.

Neither Ricciardo nor Alonso got back behind the wheel before the end of the four-hour opening session.

The opening test will continue later Monday and run through Thursday.

Teams are trying out their cars after a rulebook overhaul produced new aerodynamic and tire regulations. The designs have led to wider vehicles, which increases downforce and grip with the goal of boosting speeds.

Mercedes’ rivals are hoping the changes will help them make up ground on a team that has won 51 of the last 59 races en route to three consecutive driver and constructor titles.

To compare with times on the same track from last year, Vettel’s fastest effort of 1 minute, 22.791 seconds on Monday marks an improvement on his own leading time of 1:22.810 he set over the four days of last year’s opening test.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian Grand Prix on March 26.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
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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.