SPA, Belgium – Toyota swept to a dominant one-two finish in Saturday’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps, continuing its perfect start to the 2017 season as Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took their second straight win.
After winning the opening race of the year at Silverstone two weeks ago, Toyota sent out a warning shot to its rivals by topping all three practice sessions, only for Porsche to snatch pole with its No. 1 919 Hybrid on Friday afternoon.
Andre Lotterer led the early part of the race for Porsche, only for tire management issues to cause the German driver to drop back, with Mike Conway blasting into the lead for Toyota in the No. 7 car.
Conway and teammate Kamui Kobayashi were in control of the race until a full course yellow was thrown in the fourth hour, with a mistimed pit stop allowing the No. 8 Toyota to move into the lead.
Conway put in a stunning stint to reduce the gap between the two TS050 Hybrids from 20 seconds to just two in just 40 minutes, only to be burned by another full course yellow that widened the gap once again.
Porsche managed to get its No. 2 car up into second place briefly before Conway fought back, with Kobayashi then putting in a blistering final stint to cut the gap at the front once again. Late traffic cost the ex-Formula 1 driver the chance to catch Buemi at the front, with the No. 8 trio finishing two seconds clear at the checkered flag.
Porsche was left to settle for third and fourth, the No. 2 finishing ahead of the No. 3, but has placed its focus on preparing for Le Mans by running its cars in low downforce aero packages for the opening two rounds of the year. Toyota’s third entry, the No. 9, finished two laps down in fifth place.
G-Drive Racing converted pole position into victory in the LMP2 class at Spa after a back-and-forth battle with Rebellion ended when the Swiss team was hit with a penalty and suffered a bodywork issue, leaving Alex Lynn, Pierre Thiriet and Roman Rusinov to sweep to the win in the No. 26 Oreca 07 Gibson.
GTE Pro offered up a fascinating fight between the two AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTEs that even made contact at one point, only for Sam Bird and Davide Rigon to emerge victorious in the No. 71 car. Aston Martin Racing took GTE Am victory with its No. 98 Vantage GTE courtesy of a convincing display from Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana.
The WEC season continues with the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.
Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.
It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.
All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.
Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.
“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’
“I can’t really get onboard with that.
“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.
“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”
Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.
The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.
That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.
The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.
Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.
“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.
“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.
“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.
“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”
Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.
“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.
“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.
“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”
Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.
“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.
“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”
With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.
“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.
“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”