Photo: IndyCar

Drivers eager to begin Month of May with INDYCAR Grand Prix

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When it launched in 2014, the race now called the INDYCAR Grand Prix was somewhat of a gamble. Would adding an event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway barely two weeks prior to the Indianapolis 500 impact the bigger event? Would it serve as an effective lead into “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

According to the drivers, the event has been a flying success. “I love the GP of Indy,” said Conor Daly, native of nearby Noblesville and driver of the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing. “I think it’s an awesome way to kick off the Month of May. It’s a home race, so it means a lot to me and we came very close to being on the podium last year, so I hope to be in contention again this year.”

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, finished third in this race last year and acknowledged that the Grand Prix has been a welcomed addition to the schedule. “The INDYCAR Grand Prix was our first podium of 2016 and it would be great to repeat that. The GP has been such a fun addition to the month of May the last couple years, and like we said, the results were there last year. So with the momentum that we’ve got in the No. 5 Arrow car, and still holding on to a top-five position in points, we’re just hoping for another strong weekend,” he explained.

Scott Dixon, who will again sport NTT Data colors on his No. 9 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing this weekend, added that running the road course at the Speedway spices things up and gives onlookers something different to watch at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I like the idea of getting another race in to start the month of May before the Indianapolis 500,” said the four-time champion. “I think having a road course and then, of course, the oval race really gives race fans a good sampling of a few of the different disciplines we have to tackle as INDYCAR drivers.”

In its brief three-year history, two drivers have separated themselves at the event. The first is Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, who has won two of the three grands prix held. This includes a dominant performance at last year’s event, one in which he led 57 of 82 laps and was only demoted from the lead by pit stop sequences and drivers going off strategy.

Simon Pagenaud dominated the 2016 INDYCAR Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“I was fortunate enough to win two of the last three (grands prix) events there. We are hoping to execute again and there’s nothing like the crowd at Indy and there’s so much excitement all over the city during the month,” Pagenaud said of his history at the event.

The other driver who has separated himself has done so by being the only driver to finish in the top five at all three previous INDYCAR Grands Prix. That driver is none other than…Charlie Kimball. The man piloting the No. 83 Tresiba Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing has finished fifth in every INDYCAR Grand Prix, and even qualified on the front row for last year’s race.

“It’s my favorite time of year, May in Indianapolis,” Kimball asserted. “I’m ready to move into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and continue working toward our goals on track. It’s no secret we’ve had a rough start to the season, so this is our chance to turn things around. The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team had a super-solid race car last year, starting from the front row, so we’ll be taking what we can learn from that and seeing where we can improve.”

Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis rolls off at 3:30 p.m.

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

24 Hours of Le Mans

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.