IndyCar Photo by James Black

Rookies Colton Herta, Santino Ferrucci show promise in St. Pete

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The season-opening IndyCar race on the streets and runways of St. Petersburg saw one rookie challenge for the win, two others finish in the top 10, and another wondering what might have been.

Felix Rosenqvist stole the show by challenging for the lead immediately after starting third and settling into a comfortable fourth-place running position. He finished there, wedged between veterans Will Power (who won the championship in 2014 and finished third in the standings the past two years) and Alexander Rossi (who finished second to Scott Dixon last year).

But as Rosenqvist stood on pit road and patiently took every question the media directed at him, two other freshman drivers headed to the garage with top-10 finishes.

Colton Herta (eighth) and Santino Ferrucci (ninth) had bigger obstacles to overcome during the afternoon. Herta started just outside the top 10 in 11th. Ferrucci’s day was much less promising when the green flag first waved over the field.

He crashed in the first round of qualification, brought out a red flag and had his time disallowed. Ferrucci started on the back row and had to meticulously work his way through the field. He did so by staying on the lead lap and out of trouble. By the time Ed Jones and Matheus Leist exited with crash damage on Lap 25, Ferrucci was up to 18th.

Santino Ferrucci finished ninth in the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. Joe Skibinski, IndyCar

It took a little strategy to climb all the way into the top 10, but once the checkers waved over Josef Newgarden at the end of 110 laps, Ferrucci was ninth.

“We found something in morning warmup that was unexpected, and we made it work in the race,” Ferrucci said. “Our engineer, Michael Cannon, called a brilliant strategy, and I had to do a lot of fuel saving, to say the least. We kept it clean and in the top 10, and that was the goal. I’m really happy with today’s result, especially considering where we started.”

Ferrucci’s first IndyCar top 10 came in his fifth race. He came close last September with an 11th at Sonoma Raceway.

Herta had a less consistent race. Making his second IndyCar start, he scraped the wall early. That caused him to drop through the field until he was running only one spot ahead of Ferrucci at the time of the Jones accident.

“What an up and down race,” Herta said. “We had a pretty poor start to the race. I bumped the wall after a restart and lost quite a bit of positions. We were all the way down in 17th position at one point. After that, we just had really great pace and were able to start making up positions when everyone was in the pits. An eighth-place finish isn’t too bad for the first race of the season.”

Lost in the box score was the strength of Marcus Ericsson’s run. For most of the first half of the race, he was the second-best rookie. Prior to his retirement for an engine failure, he was running 12th – two spots ahead of Herta and four in front of Ferrucci.

“It was a great race up until the end. We started quite far back, farther back than what we think we should’ve started. It was going well and we were well inside the top 10 when we had the problem (mechanical issue). Looking at what’s happening now, we were definitely going for a top eight in the Arrow car. It was just a shame because it was a really great race up until then.”

Marcus Ericsson retired from the St. Petersburg Grand Prix on Lap 54. (IndyCar photo by Chris Owens)

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.