Photo: Toyota

Le Mans: Pre-race post roundup, notes and quick race preview

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Here’s a quick roundup of posts from the week leading into the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a few key things to look forward to in this weekend’s 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans:

Here’s the provisional starting grid.

PREVIEW

The race from an overall standpoint has a rather simple story line: Either Toyota finally breaks through after years of heartbreak, that culminated with its final 10 minute failure last year, or it doesn’t. The Toyota TS050 Hybrid has the clear one-lap pace and Kamui Kobayashi threw down an absolutely amazing pole lap; Toyota will look to translate that over 24 hours. It’s never that simple, of course, and Porsche will play the long game to hope its Porsche 919 Hybrids can overcome the pace deficit.

In LMP2, higher than expected top speeds have the ability to wreak havoc on the rest of the field. How well will the LMP2s and LMP1s interact together in traffic? Will the performance capabilities of the new LMP2 cars outperform the abilities of some of the drivers in them? Which Oreca wins? OK, we’re hoping it’s not a complete Oreca whitewash but all indications are it will be one of the 14 combined Oreca 07/Alpine A470 chassis that will win in this class.

GTE-Pro, fortunately, seems a bit less settled with Aston Martin and Ferrari locking out the first two rows and Ford and Corvette just behind. Porsche is slightly further back but not out of it either. After last year’s two-horse race between Ford and Ferrari, it looks set to be a proper fight here.

The same is true in GTE-Am, with a surprise pole coming for the sole Corvette in that class, but its one-lap pace may be limited as the race goes on with two gentlemen drivers alongside. There’s still a good potential seven or eight winners here in the 16-car class.

The four IndyCar drivers of note we’re following look to shine in their stints – Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin add Le Mans to their busy schedules while Townsend Bell looks to defend his class victory in GTE-Am.

Add in Rubens Barrichello making his debut, a host of IMSA stars including both Taylor brothers in the field, the number of Formula E drivers back in sports cars and some other Mazda Road to Indy graduates in their first race and there’s plenty of drivers with story lines to watch.

The race kicks off at 3 p.m. local time and 9 a.m. ET.

2016 Knoxville Nationals champ Jason Johnson succumbs to injuries from sprint car crash

Photo courtesy Jason Johnson Racing official Facebook page
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Former Knoxville Nationals champion sprint car driver Jason Johnson has died from injuries suffered in a crash Saturday night in a World of Outlaws race at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway).

Known as the “Ragin’ Cajun” for his aggressive style of racing, Johnson, 41, passed away this morning, according to an announcement by WoO. He was one of the most respected and well-liked drivers on the circuit by both fellow competitors and fans.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson, a Eunice, Louisiana resident, was racing for the lead in the main event on the one-third-mile clay track with eventual race winner Daryn Pitman, when Johnson crashed on Lap 18 shortly after a restart.

Johnson’s car left the track surface in Turn 3 and flew through at least one billboard adjacent to the racetrack, according to media and witness reports.

It took rescue workers several minutes to extricate Johnson, who was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to Aurora Summit Hospital in Summit, Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel report.

How many will remember Johnson:

Johnson, who won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals – the sport’s biggest race – in Iowa in storybook fashion, had been a primarily part-time racer on various sprint car circuits from 1998 until he went full-time on the Outlaws series, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.

MORE: Knoxville win should be big boost to Jason Johnson’s season, career

Johnson had 12 wins on the Outlaws circuit, including two victories this season.

The Journal Sentinel also posted a statement from SLS Promotions, which promoted Saturday’s race:

“Everyone at SLS Promotions offers our deepest, most sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to Bobbi Johnson (Jason’s wife), Jaxx Johnson (the couple’s son) and the entire Johnson family and JJR Racing team.

“Jason was a great competitor and true ambassador for the sport. It was an honor and a privilege to work with him during his time on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series trail. Jason will never be forgotten”

Other notables also commented on his death on social media:

According to the Journal Sentinel, Johnson is the second driver in four years to die at the small track northwest of Milwaukee. In September 2014, Scott Semmelann, 47, was killed there while practicing for an Interstate Racing Association event.

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