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Vettel paces opening Suzuka F1 practice as Sainz crashes hard

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Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari to the top of the timesheets in opening practice for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday morning at Suzuka, edging out Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton by two-tenths of a second.

With heavy rain forecast for much of the day at Suzuka, the majority of teams opted to get out early in FP1 in a bid to maximize track time.

Conditions remained dry for the most part of the 90-minute session, though, with light drizzle only hitting the track in the closing minutes.

Vettel was able to put in a rapid lap of 1:29.166 – already 1.4 seconds faster than last year’s pole time – to finish clear of Hamilton at the front for Ferrari, despite losing a small amount of time behind Marcus Ericsson through the final sector.

Hamilton was left to settle for second ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with less than four-tenths of a second separating the top three teams through the opening session.

The most notable incident through FP1 came when Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed hard exiting the hairpin with 40 minutes remaining, causing a significant amount of damage to the front of his Toro Rosso.

Sainz was able to walk away from the shunt unharmed, but has left his team with a sizeable repair job to complete ahead of second practice later this afternoon.

The Finnish duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas finished fourth and fifth respectively, neither able to match the pace of their teammates in P1 and P2, while Max Verstappen was over a second down on Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, ending up sixth.

Esteban Ocon swept to P7 for Force India ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, while Romain Grosjean and Stoffel Vandoorne completed the top 10 for Haas and McLaren respectively, pointing to another tight midfield battle at Suzuka.

Second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Friday.

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

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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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.