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Ricky Taylor battling flu before his Team Penske debut: could it impact him in Rolex 24?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ricky Taylor won five races last year, five poles, the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the IMSA championship. So it seemed a little strange when he didn’t qualify Team Penske’s new Acura entry.

Turns out, Taylor is in practical quarantine with the flu.

Helio Castroneves instead qualified the car and wound up second behind Renger van der Zande, the driver who replaced Taylor when he left Wayne Taylor Racing to join the Penske operation.

“It makes sense for Ricky to qualify the car because he’s got so much experience,” Castroneves said Friday. “But he’s sick. We can’t even see him. We can only text him.”

The bug has hit several members of the Penske organization, but Taylor is the only driver so far to fall ill.

Had Taylor not been sick, he’d have qualified the Penske Acura and gone head-to-head with his former team. Taylor drove with his brother, Jordan, last year on their father’s team and the duo had a career year. When it was over, Ricky Taylor had a job offer from Roger Penske that he couldn’t refuse.

Wayne Taylor chose Dutch driver van der Zande to replace his oldest son, and the newest driver knocked Castroneves from the pole.

“When they told me I had to qualify, I knew I had to put it out front because that’s what Ricky does,” Castroneves said. “I was almost there.”

The defending race-winning Wayne Taylor team will start with the pole Saturday with van der Zande behind the wheel, while Castroneves will line up next to him for Penske.

The Penske organization did not reveal Taylor’s status for the rest of the weekend. In 2016, Jordan Taylor was suffering from mononucleosis at the Rolex and the team brought in Rubens Barichello to help ease Jordan Taylor’s driving responsibilities in the twice-round-the-clock endurance race. Jordan Taylor did drive in the event and the team finished second.

The Team Penske entry consists of Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Graham Rahal, so unless they bring in another driver, Ricky Taylor will have to do at least one stint during the race.

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

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

24 Hours of Le Mans
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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.