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Toyota, Alonso take 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, Porsche dominates GTE

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The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans was as heartbreaking a finish as there ever has been in any racing event, with Kaz Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi, and Anthony Davidson coming up just short after their No. 5 Toyota TS050 ground to a halt as it took the white flag.

This year, it was a case of triumphant redemption for the Japanese marque and team, Toyota Gazoo Racing, with Nakajima and Buemi taking an overdue win, and Fernando Alonso scoring victory in the second leg of the “triple crown” (the Monaco Grand Prix – a race he’s won twice – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500).

The trio’s No. 8 entry battled hard with the sister No. 7, in the hands of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José María López, with the two cars trading the lead multiple times in the first 12 hours.

However, fortunes turned in the favor of the No. 8 in the overnight hours, with Alonso turning in a blistering pace to slash the gap separating the two down to 30 seconds – it had grown to around two minutes – followed by Nakajima continuing the same pace to put the No. 8 car back into the lead.

Buemi then followed suit to build up a healthy lead for the No. 8, while the No. 7 encountered late-race problems that hampered their challenge. Specifically, Lopez spun in the Dunlop chicane, and then Koboyashi was hit with a pair of stop-and-go penalties for a somewhat bizarre incident in which he missed pit entry for a routine stop.

In doing so, it meant Koboyashi both exceeded the permitted amount of fuel use and exceeded the maximum number of laps required between stops – he was forced to do separate stop-and-go penalties for those infractions, dropping him a lap off the leading No. 8, in the hands of Nakajima.

In the end, though, both Toyotas proved fast and reliable, and they finished 1-2 to give Toyota its first Le Mans triumph, and redemption for their 2016 heartbreak. It’s particularly redemptive for Nakajima and Buemi, who were a part of the driving lineup that year, with Nakajima driving the car at the time when it failed.

The team had Nakajima in the car to finish the 2018 race, giving him an extra piece of personal redemption as well.

Rebellion Racing rounded out the LMP1 and overall podium, with Thomas Laurent, Mathias Beche, and Gustavo Menezes piloting the No. 3 R13-Gibson to third.

In LMP2, G-Drive Racing dominated much of the way, with Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Andrea Pizzitola taking a class victory by over two laps in their Oreca 07-Gibson, ahead of the Signatech Alpine No. 36 A470-Gibson, in the hands of Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao, and Pierre Thiriet.

For Vergne, who finished the race for G-Drive, it continues a supreme year that also sees him lead the ABB FIA Formula E Championship with one round remaining.

Graff-SO24 finished third in LMP2, with Vincent Capaillaire, Tristan Gommendy, and Jonathan Hirschi rounding out the podium in the No. 39 Oreca.

In GTE, Porsche dominated both the Pro and Am classes. The Nos. 92 and 91 Porsche 911 RSRs, FIA World Endurance Championship entrants for Porsche’s factory team, scored a 1-2 for the German marque as they celebrated their 70th anniversary – both cars featured classic Porsche liveries, with the No. 92 in the “Pink Pig” livery, and the No. 91 in the Rothmans livery.

Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz, and Frederic Makowiecki claimed the victory in the No. 92, followed by Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 91.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing finished third with the No. 68 Ford GT, the best class result for any team from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, in the hands of Sebastien Bourdais, Dirk Muller, and Joey Hand.

In GTE-Am,the Patrick Dempsey co-owned Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche took the victory, with Christian Ried, Matt Campbell, and Julien Andlauer enjoying a faultless race that saw them lead most of the way in their No. 77 Porsche.

The Spirit of Race No. 54 Ferrari 488 GTE finished second in the hands of Giancarlo Fisichella, Francesco Castellacci, and Thomas Flohr, while IMSA’s Keating Motorsports finished third, with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, and Luca Stolz rounding out the podium in the No. 85 Ferrari.

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Female racer makes history with record finishes in dirt national midget events

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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Holly Shelton is riding high after setting a milestone for a female driver in a national midget series feature event on dirt this past weekend.

The Sacramento, California-area resident recorded the highest finish ever for a female dirt national midget series driver with a runner-up finish last Friday at the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League double-header weekend at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Shelton broke her own national record for top finish by a woman in a national dirt event – she finished third in a USAC race at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, last year.

One night after setting her new national record, Shelton and her Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota roared back Saturday to finish third (started on the outside pole) in the second half of the weekend double-header, making her the first female dirt driver ever on the national midget circuit to earn back-to-back podium finishes.

“It’s cool making history as a female, but my number one thing is I just want to win,” said Shelton, who will be graduating from Cal-State Sacramento with a B.A. in Criminal Justice this fall. “Truthfully, on the track I don’t even remember that I’m a girl. I’m just racing all the guys with the same goal they have – to win.”

Only one other woman has finished second in either a USAC or POWRi midget feature – Sarah McCune at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway in 1999 – but that was on pavement, not dirt.

The record-setting weekend was great consolation for Shelton, who missed three races earlier this season due to surgery and then sat out three other races last month after suffering a race-related concussion.

“It felt good,” she said of her back-to-back podium finishes. “It builds up my confidence. The car is fast and we keep getting better and we want to build on it.”

Shelton was one of four women that competed in midget competition this weekend. The others were 19-year-old Maria Cofer and 16-year-olds Holley Hollan and Presley Truedson.

“It’s awesome seeing all the little girls come up to me excited to see me at the track,” Shelton said. “Hopefully, it encourages them to pursue their dreams as well and, as the years go on, more girls will get into it.”

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