Le Mans 24: Midnight report

LMP1:

As expected, Toyota hold the lead of the LMP1 field at midnight. Mike Conway kept the #7 TS050 in front at the start, leading from pole position during the first two hours before handing over to Kamui Kobayashi.

The two Toyotas briefly traded places later in the evening as a series of safety car periods brought the cars nose-to-tail. Kazuki Nakajima, taking over the #8 Toyota from Fernando Alonso, passed José María López in the #7 to take the lead. Lopez retook the lead shortly after only to surrender it with a trip through the gravel, but by hour 9 the two cars had swapped once again and the #7—with Conway back the wheel—resumed the lead.

Third place was long held by the #3 Rebellion which, in the hands of Gustavo Menezes, moved up from fourth on the grid and held off advances by Vitaly Petrov in the #11 SMP. However this came to an end later in the evening, when Thomas Laurent put the #3 in the wall and dropped two laps behind the two SMPs, with Egor Orudzhev’s #17 now the Russian team’s lead car.

There was trouble throughout the first ten hours for the remaining privateers. Bruno Senna picked up a puncture for the #1 Rebellion in the first hour and dropped to last in class, while the #4 ByKolles made eight difficult pitstops in the by hour 3. Later in the afternoon the #10 DragonSpeed entered the garage and has remained there since.

Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA WEC Media

LMP2:

Signatech Alpine took an early lead as Nicholas Lapierre moved the #36 up from third to first off the line. But impressive pace from Jean-Éric Vergne and Dutch rookie Job van Uitert in the #26 G-Drive soon put the #36 under pressure, and Van Uitert took the class lead during his second stint.

The remaining class podium position changed hands several times during the first ten hours of the race. Initially Matthieu Vaxiviere held third in the #28 TDS Racing, but a strong opening stint from Giedo van der Garde took the position for the #29 Racing Team Nederland.

However, at hour 3 Nyck de Vries picked up a puncture during his stint in the #29. Anthony Davidson’s #31 DragonSpeed was briefly promoted to third, but was dropped down to fourth by the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing.

Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA WEC Media

GTE:

Corvette took first blood in the Pro class with Antonio Garcia moving the #63 up from third to first. But over the course of the afternoon the Porsches hauled in the Corvette and the #92 took the lead with Kevin Estre at the wheel.

In the Am class, Matteo Cairoli in the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche converted pole into an early lead. But this was lost when he handed over to Satoshi Hoshino, who spun the #88 on the Mulsanne Straight and handed the lead to Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari.

Hoshino would be involved in another, much heavier incident later in the evening as he collided with Marcel Fassler’s #64 Corvette, making the first official retirement of the race.

Ericsson considering IndyCar, Super Formula for 2019

Marcus Ericsson has said he is targeting a move to either IndyCar or Super Formula for 2019 following the loss of his Sauber Formula One race seat.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Ericsson will remain with Sauber next year as reserve driver and brand ambassador, but has said he is also looking to continue racing with a full-time drive in another single-seater category.

“I want to race at the highest level possible [next year] because I see myself coming back to Formula One in the future,” Ericsson said.

“To be able to come back to F1, I want to stay in single-seaters and fast cars. IndyCar is the best series to do that in.

“We’re talking to some teams there and I think it is a realistic target.”

Most of IndyCar’s 2019 drives have already been settled, although seats are still available at Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports, Carlin and Juncos Racing.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Ericsson has also admitted Japan’s Super Formula is “also an option”, and that he would be interested in contesting the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

But despite insisting on a single-seater programme for 2019 to keep him prepared for an F1 return, Ericsson said that Formula E is not high on his preferences:

“It is interesting in many aspects but to stay in F1-type of driving it’s maybe not the best one.

“FE is more of a career move. There are some other options that you can keep on the F1 radar [to] come back.”

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Le Mans LMP2: G-Drive takes maiden Le Mans win

The #26 G-Drive of Jean-Éric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov put in a commanding display at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to take the outfit’s first win at the event.

The #26 initially had a poor start, with Vergne losing places at on the opening lap and dropping to seventh. But after recovering one place to sixth, Vergne then went a lap longer before pitting than the leading group and the offset was enough to bring the #26 out into first, where it remained for the rest of the race to finish fifth overall and two laps up on the rest of the LMP2 field.

#36 Signatech Alpine A470 / Andrej Alesko, WEC Media

Finishing a distant second behind G-Drive was the #36 Signatech Alpine, driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão.

For most of the race, the #36 had been locked in a close fight over the runners-up spot with the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier, with the two cars trading second and third throughout Saturday evening and into the night.

But with four hours remaining on Sunday morning, Will Stevens brought the #23 Ligier into the pits with technical issues—he was kept there for over an hour, dropping him to 11th and allowing Signatech Alpine to finish second unchallenged.

Panis-Barthez’s lengthy stop promoted the polesitting #48 IDEC Sport Oreca into third, until gearbox problems ended the latter’s race within the final hours.

In the #48’s absence, the #39 Graff Oreca inherited third and held the position until the chequered flag, with Tristan Gommendy fending off a late charge by former race winner Loïc Duval in TDS Racing’s #28 car.

#47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217 / Marius Hecker, WEC Media

Juan Pablo Montoya ended his Le Mans debut in fifth in the #32 United Autosports after a puncture in the penultimate hour dropped the Colombian a lap behind the LMP2 leaders. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s all-Malaysian #37 car finished sixth while the #31 Dragonspeed, which had started second and led early on, finished seventh.

Racing Team Nederland’s #29 was the highest Dallara finisher in ninth, sandwiched between the #38 and #33 Jackie Chan cars. There were issues for the #35 SMP and the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse, with steering problems for the former and a late crash for the latter putting them 12th and 13th in class respectively.

As well as the #48 IDEC, there were four other retirements in the 20-car LMP2 field. The #34 Jackie Chan became the first after suffering an engine failure during the night, and was followed two laps later by the #40 G-Drive, which was spun into the Porsche Curves wall by José Gutiérrez. The #25 Algarve Pro Racing also retired, and United Autosports’ #22 car crashed out from fourth with four hours left.

The #44 Eurasia did not retire, but went unclassified as it failed to complete the final lap of the race.

#22 United Autosports Ligier JSP217 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Le Mans LMP1: Alonso adds to Triple Crown bid with #8 Toyota win

Toyota broke its 24 Hours of Le Mans curse with an emotional 1–2 finish led home by the #8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso.

#8 and #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrids / Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Japanese marque was the overwhelming favourite coming into the 86th running of Le Mans, and aggressive opening stints from both Buemi and the #7 car’s Mike Conway soon put the two TS050 Hybrids well ahead of the privateer LMP1 entries battling for third.

The #7 gained the advantage late on Saturday when Buemi earned the #8 car a 60-second stop-go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. But a pair of rapid nighttime recovery drives by first Alonso and then Nakajima saw the #7’s lead disappear. Nakajima then completed the #8’s comeback in the 16th hour by snatching first place from Kamui Kobayashi on the inside of Arnage.

The #8 went on to hold the lead for the remaining eight hours, while the #7 dropped back after a series of late difficulties that included Jose Maria Lopez spinning at the Dunlop chicane and Kobayashi missing a pit stop and needing to take an extra lap at full course yellow speed to save fuel.

In the end Nakajima brought the #8 Toyota across the line with two laps in hand over Kobayashi in the sister car, which was a further ten laps clear of the #3 Rebellion in third. The win was Toyota’s first at Le Mans after 19 attempts and the first by a Japanese manufacturer since Mazda in 1991. Nakajima meanwhile became the first Japanese driver to win since Seiji Ara did so with Audi in 2004.

#3 Rebellion Racing R13 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Behind the Toyotas, Rebellion and SMP Racing immediately established themselves as the chief contenders for best-of-the-rest.

After Andre Lotterer lost the nose of his #1 Rebellion in a first lap collision, it was Thomas Laurent in the sister #3 who took charge of the Swiss team’s race by pressuring the #17 SMP of Stephane Sarrazin for third.

The two Frenchmen and their subsequent replacements swapped third and fourth position several times in the opening hours of the race, although the battle was eventually ended early and in Rebellion’s favour when Matevos Isaakyan spun the #17 into the barriers at the Porsche Curves shortly after midnight.

Isaakyan’s crash came not long after Dominik Kraihamer spun the #4 ByKolles out of the race at the same part of the track. The #10 Dragonspeed was another casualty of the Porsche Curves with Ben Hanley finding the barriers in hour 17, while the Manor-run #6 CEFC Ginetta and the #11 SMP were both waylaid by mechanical troubles to make it five LMP1 retirements by the end of the race.

That left the #1 Rebellion—which recovered from its opening lap crash and several late penalties to take fourth—and the #5 CEFC Ginetta, as the only surviving LMP1 cars outside of the podium.

#6 CEFC Ginetta G60-LT-P1 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

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. 

WEC Super Season – 2018/19

As the World Endurance Championship heads to the 6 Hours of Shanghai and then onto the 6 Hours of Bahrain, thoughts have turned to 2018/19, the ‘Super-Season’.

The big news coming from the provisional calendar is that Spa and Le Mans now feature twice, with the return of the Sebring 12 Hours to the calendar which last appeared in 2012. The prologue returns to Paul Ricard in April.

The Sebring 12 Hours will be on the same weekend as the IMSA race, but starting at midnight.

Silverstone remains, though this is partly due to negotiations falling through to bring the race to Mexico City, if that had materialised then the British circuit may not have appeared at all on the calendar. Gone are CoTA, Bahrain and the Nurburgring.

Le Mans and the Sebring 12 Hours will not feature double points, but enhance points the details of which are yet to be announced. It seems fitting that the season will end at Le Mans (second visit), in most fans eyes the greatest race in the world.

The season will now begin in April 2018 and run for 14 months until June 2019. The FIA state the calendar has been designed in conjunction with the regulations to keep costs under control and offer a viable business model for the future of the series.

BMW will join the GT ranks to compete against Aston Martin, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche.

TRS and Manor have confirmed they will compete in LMP1 using a Ginetta chassis, with another unconfirmed team due to enter using another Ginetta chassis.

From next season the WEC will see the incorporation of the LMP1 Non-Hybrid cars into a single classification with the hybrid cars, be it that Porsche have now left Toyota as the only hybrid competitor. It is also proposed to equalise the lap performance of the best LMP1 Non-Hybrid cars by adjusting the instantaneous fuel flow and fuel consumption per lap for the Non-Hybrids. A fuel range advantage for Hybrid cars (one extra lap at Le Mans) will also be enforced.

With two Le Mans races in one season to enjoy, there is a lot of entertainment on offer from the WEC for 2018/19.

Provisional calendar:

5 May 2018 – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

16/17 June 2018 – 24 Hours of Le Mans

19 August 2018 – 6 Hours of Silverstone

21 October 2018 – 6 Hours of Fuji

18 November 2018 – 6 Hours of Shanghai

16/17 March 2019 – 12 Hours of Sebring

4 May 2019 – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

15/16 June 2019 – 24 Hours of Le Mans

 

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