Photo courtesy IMSA

IMSA Le Mans Thursday Notebook

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Courtesy: IMSA Wire Service

Among the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regulars competing in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT trio of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais posted the best qualifying result, taking fifth on the GTE Pro grid.

Mueller did the honors, turning a best lap of 3 minutes, 49.582 seconds around the 8.467-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on Wednesday evening, the first of three qualifying sessions for the twice-around-the clock race. The No. 68 trio head into the weekend hoping to repeat their performance from two years ago, when they won the race on the 50th anniversary of the Ford GT40’s historic Le Mans victory in 1966.

“You always wish you had more time at Le Mans,” said Hand. “You see four-hour practices and two-hour qualifying sessions and you think you have so much time, but you have the slow zones and the red flags and it cuts into your time. It’s been tricky here for sure. We rolled off at the test and were really good. And I thought we had a similar car when we rolled off for the first practice session this week, but the track rubbered up, and we’ve seemed to have too much understeer that we’ve been working on.

“We just got it better in this last qualifying session (Thursday night). We’ve been trying to work on having a great car for the race here. We’ve been successful in the past doing that. This year, with the 17 GTE Pro cars, it’s going to take everything going right.  This race is going to be won by the guys who make no mistakes.”

The race starts Saturday at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET) and will be televised live in the U.S on the Velocity network. Radio Le Mans also offers complete live coverage throughout race week, including live race coverage starting at 7 a.m. ET on RadioLeMans.com.

Top 10 Starting Spot for Segal and MacNeil in No. 84 WeatherTech Ferrari

Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal know what it’s like to stand on the podium at the end of 24 hours of racing at Le Mans, and their efforts to return this year will start with a top-10 qualifying result in the GTE Am class.

Segal placed the No. 84 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GTE prepared by JMW Motorsport ninth on class grid with a best lap of 3:53.439. He’s finished on the podium in both of his previous appearances at Le Mans, including a victory in his last appearance in 2016. MacNeil took third last year in GTE Am.

“The JMW/WeatherTech Ferrari has been handling very well,” MacNeil said. “It is the same chassis that won the race last year, so the team and the car is very capable. We have been searching for speed, finding little bits every session. The Porsches are showing a lot of pace. Come race time we plan to be very competitive. The JMW Motorsport team has been very welcoming and easy to work with. We all have the same goal – to win. So far, so good, now it is time to see what race day will bring us.”

Notes:

  • Five full-time WeatherTech Championship drivers are scattered throughout the LMP2 field, and the one with the best qualifying position is current Prototype class points co-leader Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 22 United Autosports Ligier. His run of 3:26.772 set in qualifying Wednesday night held up for eighth on the class grid. He’s sharing the car with a pair of 2018 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup competitors, Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta.
  • Another IMSA regular whose car has a solid starting position is two-time defending WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) champion Christina Nielsen. Her teammate, Fabio Babini, placed the No. 80 Ebimotors Porsche 911 RSR seventh in the GTE Am class with a lap of 3:53.402.
  • The lone full-time IMSA driver in the LMP1 field, Renger van der Zande, will see his team start from sixth on the grid in his Le Mans debut. He’s sharing the No. 10 Dragonspeed BR Engineering BR01-Gibson with Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman. The car’s best qualifying lap was a 3:21.110.
  • It’s going to be an extremely busy 36 hours or so for the Cetillar Villorba Corse team that includes another WeatherTech Championship Prototype points co-leader in Felipe Nasr. The team’s No. 47 Dallara LMP2 machine was damaged in a crash by Nasr’s co-driver Giorgio Sernagiotto during the first of two qualifying sessions on Thursday evening due to a technical issue. The incident brought an early end to the session, but Sernagiotto avoided injury. The team is working to repair the car prior to Saturday’s 3 pm local time race start.

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.