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24H Le Mans

Le Mans Thursday Notebook

John Dagys’ Thursday notebook from Le Mans…

Photo: John Dagys

***Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon said Porsche’s increased pace in Wednesday’s Free Practice and opening qualifying session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans was expected, noting that its pace at the test day was “not realistic.” “We were clearly expecting a reaction from Porsche, closer competition, and that’s what we saw yesterday.” Vasselon said.

***Vasselon expects the qualifying lap record to be broken this evening, although he said it’s difficult to predict an exact times. “One big factor which may counteract that is the temperature. It’s very hot; much hotter than usual… The lap times drop massively so this is difficult to anticipate,” he said.

***The Qualifying 1 times from the No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE were disallowed after the Houston-based team was found to be working on the car in parc ferme conditions. Technical director Rick Mayer told Sportscar365 they put the car up on air jacks and touched the tires after the checkered flag, which led to the infraction. 

***Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Pierre Kaffer’s qualification laps from the session will stand, however, and they will not need to complete the mandatory five-lap night lap minimum in tonight’s final two sessions.

***Mayer said he expects to improve on the 3:54:305 lap time set in Q1 this evening, although the team is trying to limit mileage as it’s running on the same engine it has used since the test day. There are no plans to change it prior to the race. “We need to be conscious of the number of laps we run,” he said. “We’re trying to figure everything out without killing the car.”

***One of the changes to the race’s sporting regulations for this year is the elimination of penalties for non-functional leader lights systems, an infraction that hit the Risi team after at the protest of the rival Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team. 

***Michele Rugolo, who has been called in at the last minute to fill in for the injured Lucas di Grassi in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE, has been reunited with his Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup co-driver and longtime friend Alessandro Pier Guidi. The two have been racing with and against each other going back to their karting days and have a very similar feel for the race car according to Rugolo. “We are always in the same direction and that its the main thing,” he told Sportscar365.

***As the defending Asian Le Mans Series GT champion with DH Racing, Rugolo also has a hand in that team’s GTE-Am entry this weekend in Le Mans. The DH Racing Ferrari 488 GTE, which will be campaigned at Le Mans by Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, and Andrea Bertolini, got its invitation courtesy of Rugolo’s title in Asian Le Mans last year.

***Lucas di Grassi will not be at Circuit de la Sarthe this weekend even in a spectator role, and instead is flying back to Brazil so he can prepare for surgery on his broken fibula. 

***Dries Vanthoor says brother Laurens has largely left him to his own devices as he makes his Le Mans debut this week. While Dries said his brother was a phone call away if anything should pop up, “…he had to sort it out himself when he did Le Mans for the first time so I think we’re going to do it like that as well.”

***Sebastien Buemi could complete the first leg of a remarkable triple success this weekend should he win Le Mans. Buemi is also in contention for titles in WEC and Formula E, leading both championships. However, when asked about the trophy triple, the Swiss driver said: “I can’t even think about that. I’m not sure that is going to actually happen, but you never know.”

***Great friends off-track, Le Mans rookies Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello had a bit of fun through last night’s qualifying session. LMP2 driver Barrichello had joked to Kanaan, racing in GTE-Pro, in the lead up to Le Mans that he would flash his lights extra hard when lapping the Ford GT at Le Mans.

***Kanaan revealed that Barrichello did that in qualifying, only to then lock up and run off the track when trying to pass him. Kanaan got his own back by then flashing Barrichello over and over when the Racing Team Nederland driver finally made it past.

***IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton said he’d welcome Don Panoz’s new GT-EV into the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship should Panoz decide to run the all-electric car in North America beyond his Le Mans Garage 56 ambitions next year. “Show us what you’ve got,” Atherton told Sportscar365, noting that it could be an eligible candidate for IMSA’s new “Innovation Garage” initiative.

***Aston Martin Racing Managing Director John Gaw said there’s “absolutely not” a chance the team would cut back to a two-car WEC effort post-Le Mans, despite rumors in the paddock. There had been speculation the British manufacturer could run only one GTE-Pro entry in order to focus its resources on development of its all-new, yet-to-be-revealed Vantage GTE and GT3 cars.

***Gaw, however, said the team’s post-Le Mans driver lineup for GTE-Pro is still to-be-determined, hinting they could retain all six of its current pilots for at least two of the races.  “Some circuits, you need three drivers,” he told Sportscar365. “COTA this year, it’s going to be a day race, I think that’s going to be tough for two drivers. Mexico would be a good race to have three drivers as well. We’ve got a good pool of drivers.”

***Aston Martin on Wednesday launched the Vantage AMR, a limited-production run of race-inspired V12 and V8 Vantage models celebrating the British manufacturer’s success across GT4, GT3 and GT3 categories. The Vantage AMR is available in multiple color schemes and options, including further finishing touches and personalization, with deliveries scheduled to begin late this year.

***A documentary chronicling the Ford GT’s triumphant return to Le Mans has been released. “The Return”, first shown at the Newport Film Festival in April, features never-before-seen footage showing the development of the all-new Ford GT. It is available on Amazon Prime Video for download and streaming. 

Luke Smith and Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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