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.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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