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Penske confirms JPM for Indy GP; all but confirms sports car effort

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Team Penske’s planned expansion into sports car racing, rumored for well over a year, is set to be formally confirmed later this year, Roger Penske said Saturday at St. Petersburg.

Additionally, one of the drivers who may be part of that program – Juan Pablo Montoya – has been confirmed to run at the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis in a fifth Team Penske car, ahead of the Indianapolis 500 where he’d already been announced.

“We’re looking at doing some sports car work… we’d like to put all the pieces together and hopefully will have something by mid-summer if we’re going to go for next year,” Penske told a small group of assembled reporters on Saturday.

“I don’t want to wait another year, to be honest with you. We’ve waited a year now. There’s a couple of options.”

“For Juan, I’ll run him in the G.P., and we want to get him a race with our mechanics before the ‘500. We’ll run him for both the Grand Prix and the ‘500.

“If we run a sports car program he’s on the top of the list of those to drive for us. That was part of the discussion. When we talked about wanting to run him this, when we talked about doing this, he’d be at the top of the list.”

For the fifth car at the ‘500 and the Grand Prix, Team Penske believes it will be a number of existing crew members already from the team in addition to possible extra members set to be hired for the upcoming sports car program.

Right now, Montoya is the only extra ‘500 car addition also confirmed to run at the IndyCar Grand Prix, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also working hard from a commercial standpoint to see Oriol Servia run the GP before the ‘500 as well.

Penske wouldn’t be pressed on the number of sports cars he’d run, but did say “it won’t be three.” He also said Helio Castroneves would be in the frame for a Penske sports car seat.

The likely if not formally confirmed Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform would be a car in the top class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Prototype class. This new platform made its race debut at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.

A couple key IMSA officials are on site in St. Petersburg today and were spotted at the Team Penske transporter area this afternoon.

Penske would love to do Le Mans, but until the DPi platform would be integrated into the regulations and be eligible to run at Le Mans – there are distinct powerplant and electronics differences between the manufacturer DPis in IMSA and the spec-LMP2 chassis in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Le Mans – a DPi is yet be eligible to do so.

“I wish Ganassi would loan me a couple cars,” he joked, in reference to Chip Ganassi’s four-car Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT program.

“I think (DPi) is great. It’s a good series and one we’re looking at. The thing is with Balance of Performance, you’ve got multiple chassis and engines, and it’s difficult to get it right. We did it once, had gear and rpm changes, and that makes it tough.”

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.