FIA World Endurance Championship 24 Heures du Mans at Le Mans, France
Porsche squeaks out a win; Toyotas fail again
Sunday, June 18, 2017: Going into this year’s 24-hours of Le Mans, it looked like it was Toyota’s race to lose – and lose it they did. They had three strong entries and they had put two of them solidly at the front of the grid. Porsche was the only other real contender in P1 and they had two cars which they had qualified on the second row, with the third Toyota in the third row behind them.
Last year, it had looked like Toyota had the win sewed up only to have their car fail on the final lap, letting the Porsche which was following behind through to win the race. This was a terrible outcome for Toyota who have been trying so hard, without success, to win here.
This year Kamui Kobayashi had qualified the No. 7 Toyota first with a time of 3 minutes 14.791 seconds. Kazuki Nakajima had qualified the No. 8 Toyota alongside, over two seconds slower. The No. 1 Porsche and the No. 2 Porsche made up the second row but they had even slower times than the No. 8 Toyota – so it appeared that the Toyotas had more speed than the Porsches and, hence, were favourites to win this year at last.
The first trouble for this group of five P1 cars came when the No. 2 Porsche had a failure of the hybrid drive to the front axle and the team spend a long time tearing the car apart and replacing the faulty parts. By now the car was so far back that they were considered to be completely out of contention. At the end of the fifth hour it was in 55th place, 18 laps behind the leading Toyotas.
But things were to go very wrong for the Toyotas as darkness arrived. The No. 7 car lost power with a clutch issue ten hours into the race, eventually retiring out on the course. Only a few moments later the No. 9 Toyota also retired. A fuel cut sent the car spinning in the first corner and when he tried to drive back to the pits a failed tire flailed around, destroying the bodywork. Apparently, it also pulled oil lines apart for there was a fire in the rear of the car. The car was retired within sight of the pit entrance. The No. 8 Toyota, driven by Sébastien Buemi/Anthony Davidson/Kazuki Nakajima, had already fallen out of contention after a problem with its hybrid system had cost it an hour in the garage for repairs.
After all this, the No. 1 Porsche of Neel Jani/André Lotterer/Nicholas Tandy was in the lead without another P1 car in sight – and it looked like it was going to be able to cruise home the winner. Eventually it had a lead of 13 laps over the nearest competitor, the No. 38 P2 entry of Ho-Pin Tung/Thomas Laurent/Oliver Jarvis. But then this Porsche lost power with just over three hours left to run and stopped out on the course.
This left the No. 38 P2 car in the lead ahead of a pack of other P2 cars. These cars which use a rather conventional spec V8 race engine had good reliable power and they had been able to nearly match the pace of the much more complicated and expensive hybrid P1 cars.
The first time I was at Le Mans was in 1979 when a pair of Porsche 935s came in one-two after all the supposedly faster Group 6 cars had fallen by the wayside for one reason or other. We still celebrate that win by the Whittington brothers and the second-place finish by Paul Newman, so I was not worried that the sky would fall if a P2 car won this race after all the P1 cars fell out of contention.
But that was not to be. In the final hour the remaining Porsche, the No. 2 car, caught up to the No. 38 car and took the lead. Indeed, its speed was so much faster, that the Porsche was soon a full lap ahead of the second-place car – and that’s how they finished the race. The only other P1 car still running at the end was the No. 8 Toyota, which finished ninth overall, nine laps behind the race winner and second in class. The No. 38 car did come home in second place overall and it was the winner of the P2 class.
In the GTE-Pro class (also known as GTLM-Pro) there were four Ford GTs but this year they faced strong competition from other makes including Aston Martin, Corvette and Porsche. Perhaps the BOP speed adjustments had made things more even this time. Jordan Taylor took over the No. 63 Corvette for the final stint, having been trusted to keep this car in the lead ahead of the Aston Martin close behind. Unfortunately, on the penultimate lap he had a cut tire and slowed – eventually spinning off the course just after he started the last lap. He was able to crawl around and finish but not before he was passed by the No. 97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner/Jonathan Adam/Daniel Serra and the No. 67 Ford GT of Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell/Luis Felipe Derani.
In GTE-Am the No, 98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda was doing well until it blew a tire and it destroyed the right front corner of the car’s bodywork. The time taken for repairs knocked it out of contention. This class was won by the No. 84 Ferrari 488 GTE of Robert Smith/William Stevens/Dries Vanthoor.
The next round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship is the 6 Hours of the Nürburgring on July 16.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway
A second MIS win in a row for polesitter Larson
Sunday, June 18, 2017: Last August Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi’s young driver, here at Michigan scored his first Cup win. Since then, he has won at Fontana in March and this weekend he won again at Michigan. This 24-year-old driver is starting to look like the real thing.
In qualifying, he edged Martin Truex for the pole and Truex was to prove to be a strong challenger in the race. Larson led the first 34 laps of the 200-lap race before Truex took over and led the next 28 laps. Larson regained the lead and he led for 46 laps this time.
By then, the race was about half over and the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Mat Kenseth had joined the battle for the lead. The second Stage ended on lap 127 with Truex in the lead ahead of Busch, Kenseth and Harvick. Larson had a bad restart and fell to sixth with nearly half the race left to run. On the next caution, which came on lap 151, some teams – Busch, Erik Jones, Dale Earnhardt and Ryan Blaney – took on only two tires while the others got four. This shuffled Busch up to the lead well ahead of the others who had been running at the front up to now.
By the time the next yellow flew – 30 laps later – Larson had regained second place behind Busch. On this restart, Larson, starting on the less-favoured lower line, side-drafted Busch to regain the lead but no sooner had this happened than Clint Bowyer lost control and hit the wall bringing out the seventh yellow flag with only a few laps remaining.
For this restart, which was to come with just five laps to go, Larson was the race leader and he opted for the high side with second-place Denny Hamlin below him. Busch had lost out on the previous restart and he was now back in the third row for this final restart. When the green flew, Larson made a move which was the mirror-image of his previous side-draft pass, hanging back to deny Hamlin the chance to side draft him and then, doing his own side-draft from the top groove and shooting past Hamlin into the lead. Chase Elliott and Joey Logano followed through behind him, dropping Hamlin to fourth.
And that was the way they ran out the final four laps of the race. Jamie McMurray came in fifth. Truex, who won both of the first two Stages, had been shuffled back on the lap 155 restart and he never managed to make it back up to the front of the field again. He had to settle for a sixth-place finish. Similarly, Busch lost ground in the last two restarts and he ended up in a disappointing seventh place.
For what it is worth, Larson came away from Michigan leading in the standings, with 640 points to Truex’ 635. Both of them now have two wins each while Truex has ten Stage wins to Larson’s 3.
The next MENCS race is at Sonoma Raceway on June 25.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Irish Hills 250 at Michigan International Speedway
Hamlin edges out Byron in a side-by-side dash to the checker
Saturday, June 17, 2017: This Xfinity race came down to a last-lap shootout between the rookie William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Elliott Sadler and Brad Keselowski after they took the final green with just one lap to go to the finish. On the restart, Keselowski was shuffled back while the other three jostled for position. Hamlin went to the front but Byron was right alongside challenging him for the lead. Going into the final corner Hamlin dropped back and it looked like Byron would get the upper hand – but Hamlin was getting ready to make a run out of the last turn. Byron shot up alongside as the they crossed the line two abreast – but Hamlin had his nose just ahead and he was credited with the win – by a margin of 0.012 seconds.
Had Byron won, it wold have been a big step on his way towards being recognized as one of the new generation of rising NASCAR stars but he took the loss well – a strong signal that he will indeed be one of the giants of this next wave. His JR Motorsports teammate, the veteran Elliott Sadler who finished third, came over and gave him words of encouragement. Keselowski finished fourth while Kyle Busch was fifth.
On the initial start, Busch was starting from the pole with Keselowski alongside and he got the lead at the start – thanks to a push from Byron on the second row – but then Keselowski came storming up past Byron. Busch dropped low to block him but Keselowski steered up above him – except that Busch made a second swerve up to block this move and Keselowski was already there. He bumped Busch who took a lurid slide up the track into the wall and then down onto the infield grass – doing quite a bit of damage to the car.
Busch went to the pits where his crew fixed him up as well as they could – but, of course, he was taking this first restart at the back of the field. But his car was still fast and, by lap 92 of the 125-lap race, he was back up to tenth place. When the final caution flew he was still back in ninth place but, on that final restart, he shot forward and, as the scramble unfolded ahead of him, he emerged in fifth place – an amazing last few laps for the winningest Xfinity driver of all time.
Many profess to love the new “Stages” way of running these races but, to me, the stages only interfere with the running of the races and the ‘natural’ strategy that comes from not knowing when a caution might fall. This time, the first Stage yellow flew on lap 30 but it was not until after many laps of crawling around behind the pace car that the restart came eight laps later. Surely, we come to the races to see racing laps, not these yellow-flag parade laps that add nothing to the story. The second Stage came while the cars were already under caution for debris and this resulted in some cars pitting before the official end of this stage and others after the Stage ended on lap 60. But after this confusing exercise, the front-runners somehow managed to line up at the front for the restart on lap 65.
Sadler did not pit during this end-of-stage cycle and took the restart in first – but he had to make another pit stop for fuel and tires before the end. Fortunately for him, another yellow flew on lap 113 and he was able to pit then and stay in touch with the leaders and work his way back up to fifth before that final yellow flew.
The next NXS race is at Iowa Speedway is on June 24.
NASCAR Camping World Trucks Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park
Nemechek grabs the win for his dad on Father’s Day
Saturday, June 17, 2017: Joe Nemechek’s truck race team was so short of funding that he unloaded the spare truck and entered it at the last moment as a ‘start-and-park’ entry. Despite the team's financial problems, his son, John Hunter Nemechek had put their primary truck on the front row. He led the first 39 laps of the 160-lap race but he never led again until lap 153, coming off the final caution.
He took this final restart in third place and he battled past Matt Crafton, who had led the previous 15 laps, to take the lead. They ran side by side for a lap but Nemechek got the upper hand and led the remaining six laps to the checker.
It was an emotional pair, father and son, in victory circle rejoicing in the win and hoping to find the sponsorship to allow them to continue for the rest of the season. Nemechek’s Stage #1 win and his race win will be of little value to him unless they can continue to run all the remaining races until the end-of-season playoffs begin.
Brad Keselowski’s young phenom, Chase Briscoe, had started from the pole and he led for 88 laps, but in the end he had to settle for a second place finish. The 2016 champion Johnny Sauter was third, Crafton fourth and Grant Enfinger fifth. Kyle Busch’s protege, Christopher Bell, had started the race on the second row. When that final caution came he had been running in second place right up behind Crafton but, on the restart, Briscoe came flying up trying to pass him and they came together. Bell’s right rear tire was cut and he was lucky to be able to keep going and finish in sixth place.
The next NCWTS race is at Iowa Speedway on June 23.
WEC Le Mans: Dirk Bogaerts /adrenalmedia.com
MENCS: Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing
NXS: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/NASCAR
NCWTS: Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images
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