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Toyota sweeps Le Mans test day, beats 2016 pole time

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Toyota Gazoo Racing made an impressive start to this year’s official running at the Circuit de la Sarthe ahead of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans by dominating Sunday’s test day, beating the pole time from 2016 in the process.

Toyota heads into this year’s edition of the endurance classic out to avenge its heartbreaking defeat, and made an immediate impact by sweeping the top three positions on Sunday.

Kamui Kobayashi turned in a fastest lap of 3:18.132 in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to finish over a second clear of the sister No. 8 entry at the top of the timesheets, as well as lapping 1.6 seconds quicker than last year’s pole time.

Defending Le Mans holder Porsche endured a tough day blighted by a number of issues, leaving the No. 2 919 Hybrid fourth, 3.3 seconds off the headline pace, with the No. 1 car behind in P5.

Signatech Alpine set the pace in LMP2 as Nelson Panciatici posted a fastest lap of 3:28.146 in the No. 35 Alpine A470 Gibson (rebadged Oreca 07), giving the French squad P1 by almost seven-tenths of a second. Jean-Eric Vergne put in an impressive display on his first outing at the Circuit de la Sarthe to finish second for Manor, while Alex Brundle was third-fastest for Jackie Chan DC Racing.

Oliver Gavin topped the timesheets for Corvette in GTE Pro, posting a best time of 3:54.701 in the No. 64 C7.R as the Porsche 911 RSRs followed in second and third, the No. 91 leading the No. 92. Curiously, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Le Mans defense started in quiet fashion as its quartet of Ford GTs filled out the bottom four positions.

Aston Martin Racing led the way in GTE Am courtesy of Pedro Lamy in the No. 98 Vantage V8, whose time of 3:58.250 was enough to give the British marque top spot by 0.052 seconds. Fernando Rees finished second in the No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, with Matteo Cairoli taking third for Dempsey-Proton Racing.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?