Toyota can’t fail this year

Le Mans 24 – Iconic. Photo credit Toyota Gazoo Racing WEC

Toyota have never won the 24 hours of Le Mans which is one of the world’s most demanding races. They are massive favourites this year and they have got the best chance through various reasons! 

Toyota are the only team in the leading LMP1 Hybrid class, as Porsche withdrew from the series last year. They have no realistic competition and you could say the LMP1 rule book gives them an advantage that places Toyota in firm control.

The number seven car will be piloted by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. Photo credit, Toyota WEC

The handicaps that the privateer LMP1 teams are as follows. They are not allowed to lap faster than the hybrid class, and if the privateers do, they will get a drive through penalty. The others involves the pit stops, in that a hybrid car can go a lap longer of 11 laps on fuel, whilst the privateer cars can only go 10 laps. Finally the hybrids also have a minimum pit stop time of 5 seconds which shorter than the other class. Toyota therefore will spend much less time in the pits than any other team. So realistically reliability is the only thing that would prevent them. 

Toyota have come so close in recent years and it was reliability that stopped them. The team came closest in 2016, it was leading for 23hrs 55mins until a failure happened on the penultimate lap. Porsche overtook them for victory, it was heartbreaking for the Japanese team. To add insult to injury the car took them over 11 minutes to finish the last lap which meant they were not even classified. In the race you have to complete the last lap in under 6 minutes by regulation 10.5 to be classed.

Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Le Mans rookie Fernando Alonso pilot the number eight car. Photo credit, Toyota WEC

In their #8 challenger, they have Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, who is driving for them as well McLaren in Formula 1. Alonso has taken to endurance racing like a duck to water as it was his car that took victory in the first round of the World Endurance Series in Spa, Belgium. It was his first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix in F1. 

To have without a doubt the fastest car on the grid, rules restricting the limited opposition they have and an increased calibre of drivers is it just a matter of the #7 or #8 taking victory?

It would be embarrassing for the manufacturer to lose this year, they would become a laughing stock. If they fail to win I also see the end of the LMP1 Hybrid category. To have one team in that field is also just ridiculous. 

We’ll find out! Follow @PitCrew_Online as we’ll have commentary throughout,  and get the kettle on for the early hours. 

Formula Hollywood

“I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races, or a racer who acts.”

Steve McQueen

Hollywood and Racing. The two things should go hand in hand for action and entertainment, but sometimes the films don’t do the sport of motor racing full justice.

Fortunately, there are those actors who decide that they don’t want the safety of a film set, the inclusion of a stuntman to take their place in dangerous scenes or a scripted way of life in a movie.

These thrill seekers step away from the cameras and they decide to go racing.

PATRICK DEMPSEY

There is not much cross-over these days for famous actors to move into motor racing, the exception to that rule is Patrick Dempsey. He has managed to carve out a very successful career in motor racing. The Grey’s Anatomy star first started racing in the Panoz Racing Series in the GT Class back in 2004.

It was in 2007 that he moved to the Rolex Sports Car Series and made seventeen appearances until 2009 when he entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving a Ferrari. It was from here that Dempsey would over the years grace sports car championships both in America and Europe. He has entered Le Mans four times with the following results:

2009 – Ferrari F430 GT2 – GT2 Class – 30th overall – 9th in class

2013 – Porsche 997 GT3 RSR – GTE Am Class – 29th overall – 4th in class

2014 – Porsche 911 RSR – GTE Am Class – 24th overall – 5th in class

2015 – Porsche 911 RSR – GTE Am Class – 22nd overall – 2nd in class

An accomplished racer who owns Dempsey Racing, he is a racing driver without any hesitation or shadow of a doubt. Before the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2013 he told Eurosport, “I would like to make that (motorsports) a complete priority and just focus on this full-time. If I could just walk away from acting, I think I could do that very easily, and just focus on the driving. I would love that more than anything else.”  Last season he competed in seven races in the World Endurance Championship, showing how much he is dedicated to motor racing.

But before Patrick Dempsey there were a host of famous actors who were bitten by the motor racing bug.

GENE HACKMAN

French Connection actor Gene Hackman took part in the 1983 24 Hours of Daytona, he was co-driver of the a front engine Toyota Celica for the All American Racers team with Japanese drivers Masanori Sekiya and Kaoru Hoshino. They were classified with a 57th placing but did not finish the race due to a gearbox problem which caused a transmission failure.

Former American F1 driver Bob Bondurant said that Hackman was one of the most talented celebrity racers he had ever taught. Hackman also raced at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1984, driving a Mazda RX-7 for Preston & Son with his co-driver Whitney Ganz.

JAMES DEAN

In 1954, James Dean decided he wanted to race cars.  Just before he began filming Rebel Without A Cause, Dean competed in his first event, the Palm Springs Road Races between 26th and 27th March.

 

He achieved first place in the novice class and second place in the main event.  It was a month later when he made his way to Bakersfield and finished first in class and third overall. James Dean had been bitten by the racing bug. There were plans put in place for him to compete in the Indy 500, but his acting contracts and schedule made this impossible. He entered his final race in Santa Barbara on 30th May 1955, but had to retire due to a blown piston. Whilst filming Giant he was barred from racing by Warner Brothers. When filming had finished, Dean had already put in motion plans to race.

He had purchased a race ready Porsche 550 Spyder “Little Bastard” car and it was en route to a racing event in Salinas, California that James Dean was tragically killed in an accident after a collision with another vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. There was no doubt James Dean’s hunger for racing would have seen him compete further and higher, but this sadly never happened.

ERIC BANA

Eric Bana made his motor racing debut in 1996, competing in the Targa Tasmania, a week long race around the island state of Tasmania.

In 2004 he purchased a Porsche 944 and competed in the Australia Porsche Challenge, regularly finishing in the top ten and finished a creditable fourth in the Sandown 500. In 2007 he again entered the Targa Tasmania, but this time he crashed his 1974 XB Falcon Coupe. He and his co-driver escaped uninjured.

He is also among the many top stars to have appeared on Top Gear’s A Star In A Reasonably Priced Car.

JAMES GARNER

It was during the filming of his movie Grand Prix that Garner was told by British motor racing legend Graham Hill that he could possibly driver professionally.

Garner took this advice to heart and set about getting involved in racing. He co-owned AIR (American International Racers) and made a documentary called The Racing Scene.

His racing team entered Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring endurance races with Garner himself competing in the 24 Hours of Daytona between 1969 and 1971.  James Garner drove the safety car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, 1977 and 1985.

STEVE MCQUEEN

McQueen achieved a second place and first in his class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970 with co-driver Peter Revson driving a Porsche 908. They only missed out on first place overall by twenty-three seconds behind a Ferrari driven by Mario Andretti, Ignazio Giunti and Nino Vaccarella. McQueen was also driving with a cast on his foot from a motorcycle accident two weeks earlier.

He is famed for the movie Le Mans and the famous quote that came out of that film, “Racing is life. Anything before or after, is just waiting.”  In 1961 BMC competition manager, Marcus Chambers, received a call from an American racing driver who was going to be in Britain and wanted to borrow a car to race in the British Touring Car Championship. That driver was Steve McQueen. He warmed up in an Austin A40 at Oulton Park and went on to drive a BMC Mini in the BTCC at Brands Hatch, finishing third. He wanted to drive professionally, cars or bikes.

He may have owned an array of sports cars, did his own car driving stunts in Bullitt and Le Mans, but the truth is, Steve McQueen’s first love was bikes.He competed regularly in off-road motorcycle racing, normally on a BSA Hornet. He also competed in the International Six Day Trial for the USA. McQueen was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports hall of fame in 1978. McQueen also features in the bike documentary On Any Sunday.

During the motorcycle chase scene in The Great Escape, McQueen not only played the part of Hilts, trying to escape from the Germans, he was also the chasing German soldiers (clever editing) because the film company could not find anybody to match McQueen’s bike skills. Contrary to what is said, McQueen did not perform the fence jump in the film, due to insurance purposes this role was taken by his friend and motorcycle partner Bud Elkins.

He raced bikes and cars, he was an actor, he was handsome and he was ‘The King Of Cool’. Steve McQueen was remembered as much for his racing as he was for his acting.  The list of cars owned by McQueen are legendary, Porsche 917, Porsche 908, Ferrari 512 (all race cars from Le Mans film), a 1963 Ferrari 250 Lusso Berlinetta, Jaguar D-Type XKSS, Porsche 356 Speedster, 1962 Cobra and a Ford GT40.

PAUL NEWMAN

Paul Newman was colour blind, but this did not stop him forging a career in motorsport. He was once quoted as saying about motor racing, “The first thing that I ever found I had any grace in.”

His interest in racing came about whilst he was training at Watkins Glen for the 1969 film Winning. In 1971 he hosted his first TV special called Once Upon A Wheel which was a history of motor racing. His first professional event came in 1972 at Thompson International Speedway, when he entered quietly under the name of P.L. Newman. He competed regularly in Sports Car Club of America events during that decade and went on to win four national championships. He competed at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Porsche 935 for Dick Barbour Racing along with his co-drivers Rolf Stommelen and Dick Barbour. They achieved a memorable second place and first in their class. In 2000 he entered the Petit Le Mans. From the mid-1970’s to the early 1990’s, he drove for the Bob Sharp Racing team. He raced Datsun’s (which were later to be re-badged Nissan’s) in the Trans Am Series. Newman had a close connection with the car manufacturer and even had a Nissan Skyline named after him.

Aged 70, Newman became the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned event winning in his class at the 24 Hours of Daytona. He went on to compete in the Baja 1000 in 2004 and again at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2005.

Paul Newman is famed for his ownership of a racing team. It was during 1976 he thought about forming his own team and contacted Bill Freeman. Newman Freeman Racing competed in the North American Can-Am series in a Budweiser sponsored Chevrolet (with a Spyker engine). They won the Can-Am Championship in 1979. In 1983 Newman co-founded Newman/Haas Racing with Carl Haas and entered the Champ Car Series. The team went on to win eight drivers championships, Mario Andretti (1984), Michael Andretti (1991), Nigel Mansell (1993), Cristiano da Matta (2002 and Sebastien Bourdais (2004-2007).

He competed into his 80’s, winning at Lime Rock in a Corvette displaying the number 81, his age and took pole in his last race in 2007 at Watkins Glen. Paul Newman was posthumously inducted into the SCCA Hall Of Fame in February 2009.

Because of the involvement in racing, these actors aren’t just cool, they are just simply ice-cold epic.

See You At The Chequered Flag.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

One Grand Prix – Stephane Sarrazin

He is currently competing in the  World Endurance Championship for Toyota,  the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Rebellion and has competed for the Venturi and Techeetah Formula E Teams. He has raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans sixteen times and competed at the 24 Hours of Daytona. He has also competed in the World Rally Championship and in V8 Supercars, but Stephane Sarrazin only ever had one Formula One race to his name.

Sarrazin was a test driver for the Prost Formula One team when a chance came to race at the 1999 Brazilian Grand Prix. Luca Badoer had sustained an injury during testing and Minardi asked for Sarrazin to replace him in Brazil.

Badoer had raced for Minardi in Australia, he retired with gearbox issues. The Grand Prix was won by Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari, he was joined on the podium by Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan-Mugen-Honda) and Ralf Schumacher (Williams-Supertec). Now it was onto Brazil and the call came through from Minardi for Sarrazin to step in and replace Badoer.

“I was reserve driver for Prost and suddenly Minardi called for a drive,” Sarrazin was quoted as saying.

As the teams took to the track for practice it was Ricardo Zonta who would receive an injury after a big crash in Saturday practice that would see him out of the race.

Sarrazin qualified 17th out of the 21 drivers, he out-qualified his team mate, Marc Gene but the Minardi was over three seconds off Hakkinen who took pole. Sarrazin was over a second slower than the next car in front of him, the Williams-Supertec of Alex Zanardi.

It was Hakkinen who went off into a commanding lead, Coulthard stalled on the grid and he was pushed into the pit lane where he rejoined on lap 4. On lap 10 Benetton’s, Alexander Wurz and Jordan’s Damon Hill collided which ended Hill’s race.

Sarrazin entered the straight on lap 31, there two reports that either his throttle stuck or he had a wing failure, but whatever the problem was, it sent him crashing into the wall and this effectively ended his only Formula One Grand Prix.

It was the disappointment afterwards that hurt Sarrazin.  After Brazil, Minardi asked him to complete the 1999 season with them. He states they called the Prost team many times but team principal, Alain Prost was adamant that Sarrazin would be driving for Prost. He placed a block on him moving to the Minardi team.  Sarrazin decided to be patient.

The following season he finished second in the Formula 3000 championship behind Nick Heidfeld. Prost told Sarrazin, “Sorry, I cannot take you, I have to take Nick for Mercedes engines for the year after.”

Sarrazin was heartbroken. He felt that he should have been stronger and taken the decision to join Minardi when the opportunity was presented. Despite this and the fact he only ever race once in Formula One, Sarrazin has gone on to have a successful racing career in other forms, he has finished 2nd on four occasions at Le Mans.

Just the single F1 Grand Prix but Sarrazin had many other races about him.

See you at the chequered flag

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing