IMSA Sebring Day 1 of 2-day test notebook: Fred Poordad back from serious 2017 crash

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It may be more than three weeks before the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring weekend, but there was plenty of action at the central Florida track Tuesday.

It was the first day of a two-day test for various classes, and if you didn’t know it, you’d say teams were doing more racing than practicing.

Here’s some of the highlights:

* IMSA Prototype Challenge: P1 Motorsports topped the speed charts in impressive fashion.

Based 100 miles south of Sebring in Coconut Creek, Florida, P1 Motorsports picked up where it left off at a private test at Sebring last week.

The team’s No. 25 Ligier JS P3, piloted by Joel Janco and Kenton Koch, unofficially posted the fastest time of eight prototypes in either the LMP3 or Mazda Prototype Challenge in both practice sessions Tuesday.

“It was kind of the perfect place to test before a test, and then the race,” Koch said, per a IMSA media release. “For the most part the car was hooked up at the end of that test (from last week).

“We tried some little things in the morning today and ended up just going back to where we were. I’m really happy with everything, the car’s really hooked up and Joel’s doing great too. All the practice is really paying off.”

There was just one incident across the several classes in the entire day: the No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2 of Gary Gibson made contact with a tire barrier in Turn 16 in the morning session. Damage was repaired and the car was back on the racetrack midway through the afternoon practice session.

There will be one more practice Wednesday, starting at 8 a.m. ET.

* A little over a year after a bad wreck while practicing for the Bathurst 12-hour race in Australia, Fred Poordad is back behind the wheel, taking part Tuesday in his No. 20 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup ride.

“I was having a really awesome time and a great run until I had a little mishap coming down the mountain and clipped a wall and went into another one,” Poordad said of the Bathurst incident. “Unfortunately, it left me with some back and neck injuries and I spent six months rehabbing.”

Poordad’s injuries were initially so serious that he wondered if he’d ever race again. But one year later, he was back behind the wheel Tuesday, preparing for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA By Yokohama season.

It didn’t take him long to shake off the rust, holding pace with several of the quickest driver on the racetrack.

“I’m feeling pretty good now,” Poordad said. he said shortly before the start of the day’s second session of the test day. “I wanted to get back in the car to see if the passion and energy were still there. So far, so good. I’m enjoying it. There’s nothing like being in a Porsche.”

There will be another test session Wednesday that is open and free to the public, but there will be a $10 admission charged for sessions on Thursday and Friday.

* Dutch driver Indy Dontje wasn’t exactly sure what he was getting into with his first visit to Sebring Raceway.

But he proved to be a quick learner in Tuesday’s practice for the Grand Sport (GS) class.

Behind the wheel of the No. 57 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4, Dontje unofficially had one of the top five times in Tuesday’s morning practice session, the first of three scheduled for the Continental Tire Challenge across two days.

“I got my rhythm and put a good lap time together and it’s quite bumpy in some places, but it’s a nice, quick track and I think this will suit the Mercedes a bit more than Daytona,” Dontje said. “I was really happy with my pace and I’m really excited to be here in Sebring. I’ve heard a lot of stories about it, so I wanted to know the track and see and hear everything.”

Sebring will be the second of four venues that Dontje will compete at in the 2018 season for Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport.

Dontje and co-driver Bryce Ward finished fifth last month at Daytona in the BMW Endurance Challenge.

“I experienced everything at Daytona,” Dontje said about adjusting to racing in the U.S. vs. in Europe. “The team itself, it’s good because we have a partnership with HTP, so there are some European mechanics here with me.

“We have a sort of mixture of all the guys we have the experienced guys from Europe, we have the experienced guys from the U.S. It’s cool, you know?”

Dontje is not a man unto his own island at Sebring. He has teammate Damien Faulkner to lend a hand.

“He’s an experienced guy here,” Dontje said of Faulkner, adding, “so sometimes if I felt like I have a big question, I ask him because he knows his way around.”

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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.