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Max Verstappen tests Zandvoort track that will host Dutch GP

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ZANDVOORT, Netherlands — Max Verstappen tested his home Formula One venue Wednesday, taking a spin around the Zandvoort circuit to christen a track that has undergone major renovations for this year’s Dutch Grand Prix.

He liked what he saw at a track hosting a Formula One Grand Prix for the first time since 1985, thanks in no small part to the popularity of Verstappen among Dutch race fans.

“Yeah, it was really cool,” Verstappen said after seven laps that had workers in orange high-visibility jackets applauding in the main stand. “I think the track was already very nice to drive before but I think … the changes they made to the track makes it even more special.”

The Red Bull driver finished third in the championship standings last season behind Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and is hoping to break through the German team’s dominance this season.

In the past, overtaking was tough on the old Zandvoort circuit, where Niki Lauda won the last time it hosted a Grand Prix. Adding banking to two turns on the track, which snakes through sand dunes on the North Sea coast west of Amsterdam, should give drivers the chance to pass.

“I think the changes they did to the track they will definitely help for that, but to be honest I’m not thinking about that yet,” Verstappen said. “I think as a team anyway we have to target to try and be first, so we don’t need to overtake.”

Verstappen’s laps at Zandvoort came hours after seven F1 teams co-signed a statement opposing a confidential settlement between Ferrari and governing body FIA following an investigation into the team’s engine last season.

The settlement came after questions had been raised by teams and drivers as to whether the Ferrari car’s fuel-flow meter was bypassing the regulatory amount of 100 kilograms per hour. They argued that this may have been influencing Ferrari’s notably superior speed on long straights, and its run of six straight pole positions.

Verstappen didn’t comment on the teams’ statement but said: “I think in every sport you want to a level playing field.”

Another issue hanging over the start of this Formula One season is the coronavirus outbreak.

The Chinese Grand Prix that was scheduled for April 19 in Shanghai has already been postponed due to the outbreak that has its epicenter in China.

Verstappen said it is up to the sport’s governing body to decide what measures to take.

“I trust I fully trust them and everything they decide,” he said. “So, yeah, we rely on them and we just wait for all the decisions to be taken by them.”

The few hundred orange-clad workers on hand to watch the laps Wednesday were a fraction of the tens of thousands expected to descend on this small seaside town over the race weekend to watch their hero.

Verstappen said he would not let the weight of expectation change the way he prepares and races.

“I mean, yeah, there will be a lot of people supporting you,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I will always try my very best at every single Grand Prix. So for me, that doesn’t change anything in terms of preparation for this one, but of course, you want to have a good result.”

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.