Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota leads Thursday WEC practice running at Spa

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SPA, Belgium – Toyota continued its impressive start to the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season by leading the first two practice sessions for this weekend’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on Thursday.

Toyota kick-started its campaign with a narrow victory over Porsche at Silverstone two weeks ago, with the No. 8 TS050 Hybrid shared by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima clinching victory.

Toyota’s Thursday at Spa started with a setback when Jose Maria Lopez was ruled out of the weekend on medical grounds, owing to a minor injury from his shunt at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi were left to continue as a two-man team for the day, yet they made the most of it as they led FP1 and FP2 respectively in the No. 7 TS050 Hybrid.

Conway edged out the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid by just 0.036 seconds in the first session, before Kobayashi was able to pull out a half-second gap in FP2, with the No. 2 car posing the stiffest competition once again. Kobayashi’s time of 1:56.369 was the fastest of the day overall.

In LMP2, the CEFC Manor TRS Racing team swept to a one-two finish, with recent Formula 1 driver Jean-Eric Vergne turning in a fastest lap of 2:02.662. The Chinese-backed team finished a second clear of the competition, with Signatech Alpine finishing as the best of the rest in third.

Aston Martin was fastest in GTE Pro as Marco Sørensen recorded a best lap of 2:16.458 in the No. 95 Vantage GTE, finishing two-tenths clear of Kevin Estre’s lap in the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR. Estre crashed at Les Combes midway through the session, but still ended the session P2, with the No. 67 Ford GT following in third.

GTE Am saw Spirit of Race lead in the No. 54 Ferrari 488 GTE courtesy of Miguel Molina, lapping 0.170 seconds faster than the No. 98 AMR entry.

Running continues on Friday at Spa with third practice and qualifying ahead of the race on Saturday.

Reports: Fernando Alonso to test on September 5 at Barber Motorsports Park

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According to a number of media stories Thursday afternoon and evening, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will reportedly test an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday, September 5.

The 2.38-mile permanent road course just outside Birmingham, Alabama, per those stories, will play host to Alonso as he reportedly tests with IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport team and Honda.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) President Art St. Cyr issued a statement late Thursday afternoon about Alonso’s reported upcoming test:

“Fernando Alonso is one of the premier racing drivers of this generation, and we very much enjoyed working with him at the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“He has shown that he can be very competitive right off the bat, and it would be great for IndyCar if he were to decide to drive here full-time after his F1 career. Having Alonso as a driver would be an obvious benefit for any team or manufacturer.”

However, St. Cyr’s statement also included a reference to Honda potentially not being able to field a new engine for Alonso in the IndyCar series in 2019.

“Our engine lease agreements are made between HPD and specific teams,” St. Cyr’s statement said. “Several of our current IndyCar Series teams already have agreements in place with HPD for the 2019 season, and we have been operating near maximum capacity all year long to properly provide powerful, reliable engines for all of our teams.

“We have had discussions with several current and potential teams for 2019, and those discussions are ongoing.”

Rumors of Alonso potentially racing for a hybrid operation that would include Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Harding Racing have been picking up speed. But there’s one potential major hurdle: Harding’s Dallara’s are powered by Chevrolet engines.

Alonso announced earlier this week that he’d be retiring from Formula One at season’s end, saying he’s looking forward to new adventures.

Because of his loyalty to McLaren, it’s increasingly looking as if Alonso comes to IndyCar, McLaren will have some involvement – although perhaps not as much as it potentially could do if it went all-in with a full-time effort immediately in 2019.

There is no word whether Chevrolet or Harding Racing could potentially be on hand at the Sept. 5 test at BMP, even in just an observation role.

Since being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Alonso’s desire to become only the second driver to win motorsport’s triple crown – the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – has increased exponentially.

He’s already won the first two; just a Indy 500 triumph remains on his bucket list.

The late Graham Hill is the only driver to have accomplished the triple crown feat to date.

Alonso, who turned 37 on July 29, has made just one prior IndyCar start, in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps of the 200-lap event and appeared to have a car strong enough to win before it suffered engine failure with 21 laps remaining.

Instead of what likely could have been a top-five finish, if not a win, Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar racing ended disappointingly with a 24th-place finish.

In addition to being courted by IndyCar, NASCAR has also jumped into the Alonso sweepstakes, saying he’d be welcome to race in the 2019 Daytona 500.

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