Craig Murto: It’s not over until it’s over
It may be cliché to say it’s not over until it’s over, but the 84th running of the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance sports car race proved the point.
In a stunning turn of events, race leader Kazuki Nakajima behind the wheel of the Gazoo Racing Toyota hybrid TS050 prototype suffered engine failure with three minutes remaining, handing the race win to Porsche.
For the first time in history the twice-around-the-clock event started behind the pace car, as rainy conditions forced organizers to begin the race under full-course caution. But once under green, the No. 5 Toyota driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, and Nakajima competed for the top spot, seemingly putting the race in the bag the final six hours.
But the racing gods can often be cruel. As successful as Toyota has been racing worldwide in 2016, including in NASCAR, they were not meant to win Le Mans. The engine failure turned the race over to the Porsche 919 hybrid prototype drive by Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb.
Big news also was made in the GT class. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first win at Le Mans, the Ford Chip Ganassi USA Ford GT driven by Joey Hand, Durk Müller, and Sebastien Bourdais crossed the line 10.2 seconds ahead of the Risi Competitzione Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Giancarlo Fisichella, Tony Vilander, and Mateo Malucelli.
There was controversy, however, as allegations that Ford sandbagged during practice persisted. And rule changes to supposedly equalize the competition appeared to give Ford an advantage and leave last year’s winning Corvette to struggle for speed.
Nico Rosberg had no trouble finding speed in his Mercedes Formula One car as he dominated the Grand Prix of Europe on the new street course in Baku, Azerbaijan. In fact he scored the “grand slam,” winning the race after qualifying on the pole, leading the most laps and setting the fast lap of the race.
The race on the narrow circuit was surprisingly clean. In each of three support divisions, the pole winner never made it through Turn 1 without crashing. But the grand prix itself ran without the expected full-course yellow and safety car.
Sam Hornish Jr. won in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway. The former Indy 500 winner made his first start in any racecar this season count. He didn’t even know until the Monday before the race that he had the opportunity, and he certainly proved that if he’s given good equipment he can make the most of it. And to make his Father’s Day even better, it was the first time he won a race with his children present. Hopefully some doors will again open for Hornish.
Veteran Super Late Model competitor Gary Stuhler hasn’t lost his touch. Last weekend he won his first race of the season at Hagerstown Speedway, the 135th of his career.
At Winchester Speedway, Dale Hollidge scored the Super Late Model win and Tanner Kerr won in the Crate division. On pavement at Shenandoah Speedway, Anthony Linenhoker won in the Virginia Sprint Series.
Nick Smith grabbed another NASCAR Late Model Stock Car victory at Dominion Raceway. Also on the card were twin 20-lap modified features, won by Chris Humblet and Allen Marshall.
Drag racing enjoyed a big weekend just south of the Virginia border. Tommy Johnson Jr. raced to his first Funny Car victory of the season and 13th of his career Sunday at the National Hot Rod Association Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. Johnson drove his Dodge to a 4.038-second pass at 313.22 mph to defeat teammate Matt Hagan’s 4.030 at 317.57 in the final round.
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon made his first final round appearance of the year meaningful, as he raced to a 3.838 at 322.19 to defeat teammate Tony Schumacher’s 3.934 at 310.70. In Pro Stock, Jason Line drove his Chevy Camaro to his sixth victory of the season and 43rd of his career, recording a 6.668 at 207.59 to better Greg Anderson’s 6.694 at 207.62.
Flat track motorcycle racers were on the dirt mile at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, and streamed live on www.fanschoice.tv. Defending national champion Jared Mees scored the decisive victory on his Harley-Davidson, beating the Kawasaki of Bryan Smith by more than two seconds and ending Smith’s string of victories on the mile at three.
Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.