Heartbreak for Menezes after ‘drive of his life’ at Le Mans

Gustavo Menezes’ bid to make it three podium finishes from four starts in the Le Mans 24 Hours ended in heartbreak last weekend (15/16 June) in the 87th running of the race widely regarded as the toughest in the world – but the talented young American still managed to turn heads with his scintillating raw speed.

The culmination of the fiercely-disputed FIA World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season’, Le Mans is as gruelling as they come – 24 hours of blood, sweat and tears for drivers, mechanics, engineers, cars and tyres alike. A record-breaking 62 entries tackled the 2019 edition of the legendary round-the-clock classic, which was preceded by an official test day, at which Rebellion Racing posted the quickest time of the non-hybrid teams in the headlining LMP1 category.

Entering the race week sporting a vibrant new, neon ‘art car’ livery – courtesy of a tie-up with Los Angeles-based artist Tomyboy and his Rocketbyz brand – the No.3 entry piloted by Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Nathanaël Berthon overcame engine issues that significantly restricted the trio’s track time to secure fourth on the grid in a disrupted final qualifying session.

That was achieved by dint of a stellar late effort from Menezes that lifted the Rebellion-Gibson R-13 prototype above ex-McLaren Formula 1 ace Stoffel Vandoorne in the best-placed of the two SMP Racing cars. Not for the first time this season, the 24-year-old Californian was the fastest Rebellion driver over a single lap, less than a second shy of pole position around the 13.626km La Sarthe circuit and almost three seconds quicker than a certain Fernando Alonso in one of the pace-setting Toyotas.

Menezes took the start of the race, and after gaining a position away from the line, he briefly outfoxed World Champion-elect Sébastien Buemi for second before focussing on fending off another former F1 driver in the shape of Vitaly Petrov for third.

An enthralling cat-and-mouse duel ensued as the 2016 FIA WEC LMP2 Champion, Le Mans class-winner and ‘Revelation of the Year’ initially found himself unable to shake off the SMP car due to its straight-line speed advantage. A combination of superior racecraft – particularly through the traffic – and excellent pit-stops from the Rebellion crew, however, eventually allowed him to pull clear, and by the time he handed over to Berthon, he had established a margin of almost a minute.

Ground was lost when Laurent was subsequently boxed in during a pit visit, but worse was to follow. As darkness began to fall, the Frenchman made contact with the wall at the second Mulsanne chicane, requiring an unscheduled pit-stop for replacement front bodywork and relegating the No.3 car to fifth, a full lap behind its two SMP rivals.

Menezes returned to the cockpit at 11pm and immediately went on the attack, making short work of overhauling the fourth-placed SMP and – with the bit well-and-truly between his teeth – going on to reduce the deficit to Egor Orudzhev in the sister car to less than 50 seconds. That relentless pressure ultimately told as the Russian crashed just before 1:30am, reinstating the Rebellion in third.

Berthon and Laurent maintained the rhythm during their stints before Menezes got back in approaching 7am, but half-an-hour later, the crew was handed a three-minute stop-and-go penalty for a tyre rule violation. That dropped the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé behind the surviving SMP entry once again, and as he endeavoured to regain the initiative, he found himself edged onto the kerb by a lapped GT car going through the Porsche Curves, sending the R-13 into a spin and beaching it in the gravel.

The delay cost the Rebellion two laps, and brake failure shortly before 10am necessitated another lengthy pit visit, leaving Menezes, Laurent and Berthon a frustrated and disappointed fifth at the chequered flag – albeit securing them third position in the final World Championship standings, and top non-hybrid competitor.

The statistics also showed that the highly-rated Santa Monica native set the third-fastest lap time of the 186 drivers in the race and was second-quickest in terms of average pace, a scant 0.018s adrift of Mike Conway’s benchmark in the Toyota – an impressive achievement indeed given the performance disparity between the hybrid and non-hybrid entries. And as for a return to the podium at Le Mans, well, he reasons, there’s always next year…

“That was a long 24 hours!” reflected Menezes, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “We felt quite confident going into the race after practice and qualifying, and I got an amazing start to pass the SMP and then get around the second of the Toyotas too, though I slightly caught the back of it in the process, which cost us a bit of front end downforce.

“We had a good battle with the SMP early on – it was so fast in a straight line that I could never quite break away from it, but after the Rebellion boys changed the nose on the R-13 at the first pit-stop, I was able to pull clear and handed the car over to Nathanaël in a strong position.

“He then picked up the baton, but we lost some time in one of the pit-stops – with the pit-lane being so tight at Le Mans, we got stuck between cars in the boxes either side of us. We lost further time when Thomas hit the wall, which left us almost a lap behind the SMP in third place and when I got back in at around 11pm, the team just told me, ‘qualifying mode – let’s go!’ That stint was probably the drive of my life – I put my absolute heart and soul into it and was faster than the Toyotas at times.

“Nathanaël did a great job again to settle into a consistent rhythm and strengthen our grip on third, before Thomas maintained that momentum in the morning, and we had two minutes in-hand over the SMP when I returned to the cockpit just before 7am on Sunday. The objective at that stage was simply to bring it home, and it was nice not to have to take as many risks as I had done during the night – if you push too hard for too long in a race like Le Mans, ultimately, you’re asking for trouble.

“Towards the end of my stint, I had just put the SMP a lap down when I received a radio message saying I had to pit next time round to serve a three-minute penalty due to having the wrong serial number on the tyres we had taken on at the last stop, which wasn’t even the team’s mistake. As I exited the pits again on ice cold tyres, I could only watch as the SMP flashed past to move into third. After all the effort we had put in to pull so far ahead, that was absolutely galling and the race really unravelled from there.

“We had no choice but to re-engage ‘quali mode’, and I had almost caught Vandoorne back up when I got squeezed by a GT car going through the Porsche Curves. I clipped the kerb, and that sent me into a spin. It was so sad to see the podium just slip through our fingers and the brake failure then hammered the final nail into the coffin, but honestly, I can’t praise Rebellion Racing and my two team-mates highly enough for the incredible job that everyone did. The pace we had was unreal, so we’ll just have to come back next year and try again…”

HAWKSWORTH HITS MARKS IN FINAL MINUTES TO GIVE AIM VASSER SULLIVAN FIRST IMSA WITH LEXUS

HAWKSWORTH HITS MARKS IN FINAL MINUTES TO GIVE AIM VASSER SULLIVAN FIRST IMSA WITH LEXUS

Jack Hawksworth proved to be calm under intense pressure on Sunday afternoon at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to send AIM VASSER SULLIVAN to victory lane for the first time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Driving the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 in the GT Daytona (GTD) class, Hawksworth kept a hard-charging Mario Farnbacher in his rearview mirror after stealing the lead from him on a restart with 30 minutes remaining in the two-hour, 40-minute Acura Sports Car Challenge.

Farnbacher didn’t relent, though, keeping Hawksworth within striking distance of his No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 machine. On the final lap, Farnbacher was able to pull along the driver side of the Lexus, yet couldn’t complete the pass on the outside line.

The victory is Lexus’ third in IMSA GTD competition, with the first coincidentally coming one year ago at Mid-Ohio. The No. 14 was expected to be a fierce competitor on Sunday, with Hawksworth’s co-driver Richard Heistand placing the car on the pole during qualifying on Saturday.

My first race in the WeatherTech Championship I won (2014 Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Prototype Challenge class), and then I went on the biggest dry spell of all-time, so it’s nice to be back in a win,” said Hawksworth. I was a part of the team last year when they won here and I’ve had some great times in the Lexus RC F over the last three years. It’s a pleasure to work alongside Lexus and drive with these great teams. I’ve had a lot of poles and fastest laps and I’ve had a lot of fastest cars, but it just never happened. But this race, it just all came together.”

 

Hawksworth described his battle with Farnbacher as a cat-and-mouse game, seeing the Lexus and Acura having strengths at different sectors of the track. Heistand was quick to give credit to his co-driver following the race for holding off the Acura.

Jack did an unbelievable job,” said Heistand, who earned his first IMSA victory. That pass on the restart, it was just incredible. His pace at the end, people don’t realize this Lexus at the end of the stint is hard compared to the other cars with the tires. What he does at the end of the stint is remarkable. Just look at the pace of the other cars at the end of the race there. What he did was incredible. I’m thrilled.”

It was a bittersweet runner-up finish for Farnbacher and co-driver Trent Hindman, who led a class-high 85 laps after starting from the ninth position. Hindman and Farnbacher, however, now hold a seven-point lead over the other AIM VASSER SULLIVAN entry, the No. 12 of Townsend Bell and Frank Montecalvo.

The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Scott Hargrove and Zach Robichon was poised for its first podium finish of the season until bad luck struck the team again. With under seven minutes remaining, and running third at the time, Hargrove’s Porsche slid off the track into the gravel and was unable to continue. The team ultimately finished 12th. Capitalizing on the Porsche’s bad luck was the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Ryan Hardwick. It is the team’s first top-10 finish of the season. A television re-air of the Acura Sports Car Challenge will be shown on NBCSN on Wednesday, May 8 at 3 p.m. ET.

The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes place at the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park. The 100-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic is set for Saturday, June 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with live coverage also available via IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio. Tickets are available now on DetroitGP.com.

TALENTED US TEENAGER TRADES SINGLE-SEATERS FOR SPORTSCARS WITH DINAMIC MOTORSPORT

TALENTED US TEENAGER TRADES SINGLE-SEATERS FOR SPORTSCARS WITH DINAMIC MOTORSPORT

Jaden Conwright will join the Porsche Carrera Cup Italia (PCCI) with Dinamic Motorsport this year, as the rising American star seeks to carve out a professional career in GT racing following a successful apprenticeship in single-seaters – with promotion to the prestigious Porsche Motorsport Scholarship Programme in 2020 firmly in his sights.

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REBELLION RACING ACE DENIED PODIUM BY MECHANICAL MISFORTUNE

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Gustavo Menezes put on a spectacular show for the appreciative home crowd in last weekend’s 1,000 Miles of Sebring – round six of the fiercely-disputed 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – but mechanical woes ultimately denied the talented young American a popular podium result.

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TAN WEATHERS THE STORM IN SHANGHAI TO MAINTAIN TITLE CHALLENGE

TAN WEATHERS THE STORM IN SHANGHAI TO MAINTAIN TITLE CHALLENGE

Weiron Tan and his Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport team-mates Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffri fought through challenging conditions in last weekend’s 6 Hours of Shanghai (16-18 November) to tally a fifth consecutive top four finish that keeps them firmly in title contention in the fiercely-disputed FIA World Endurance Championship.

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JACK HAWKSWORTH JOINS AIM VASSER SULLIVAN

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Plano, Texas (October 29, 2018) – AIM VASSER SULLIVAN (AVS), the newly formed motorsports entity that includes AIM Autosport, a championship-winning organization and IndyCar winning team owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan is thrilled to announce Jack Hawksworth as the team’s first driver. Hawksworth will be racing full-time in 2019 in one of the two Lexus RC F GT3 race cars that AVS will campaign in the GT Daytona (GTD) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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MENEZES VOWS TO COME BACK FIGHTING AFTER EARLY BATH AT FUJI

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Gustavo Menezes has promised to ‘come back stronger in the next round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, after his bid for a fourth consecutive top three finish in sportscar racing’s premier global series came unstuck in challenging conditions at Fuji Speedway last weekend (12-14 October).

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TAN SCALES THE SUMMIT AT FUJI AS HE CONTINUES TO MAKE HISTORY

TAN SCALES THE SUMMIT AT FUJI AS HE CONTINUES TO MAKE HISTORY

Weiron Tan is tearing up the history books almost as quickly as he is tearing around the racetrack in the FIA World Endurance Championship this year, and he continued that trend last weekend (12-14 October), playing a key role in the first-ever victory for an all-Malaysian crew in an international FIA-sanctioned event with a peerless performance at Fuji Speedway.

Tan arrived at Fuji – an iconic circuit nestled in the foothills of Japan’s majestic Mount Fuji and steeped in motorsport heritage – in determined mood, having come within a whisker of triumphing in the previous FIA WEC outing at Silverstone two months earlier. The highly-rated Malaysian Chinese racer wasted no time at all in getting up-to-speed behind the wheel of Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport’s Gibson-powered ORECA 07 prototype in free practice, immediately lapping on the same pace as more experienced team-mates Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffri.

Showcasing no shortage of commitment, 23-year-old Tan shaved a full second off the trio’s best FP1 time in FP2 to go third-fastest as he gained in confidence, before Jaafar and Jeffri teamed up in qualifying to put the 600bhp #Fortunecat37 entry a strong second on the grid in the fiercely-disputed, high-calibre LMP2 category ahead of the following day’s 6 Hours of Fuji. Characteristically challenging – and changeable – conditions greeted competitors for the start of the race, but the rain and damp track surface could not deter Jaafar, who was into the LMP2 class lead by lap four. Debris on the main straight subsequently brought out the safety car later in the opening hour, and with the action temporarily neutralised, a pit-stop to switch from intermediate tyres to slicks would prove to be a tactical masterstroke.

As the circuit increasingly dried, Jaafar, Jeffri and Tan went on a charge. Consistently extending their advantage, even an ill-timed Full Course Yellow in the closing stages was unable to dent their dominance, and they ultimately took the chequered flag just under half-a-minute clear of the sister #Mighty38 car in front of the 52,800 appreciative and enthusiastic spectators thronging the Fuji grandstands.

 

The success has vaulted them to within a single point of the LMP2 championship lead in endurance racing’s premier global series, heading next to the fifth round of the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’, China’s 6 Hours of Shanghai on 16-18 November – Jackie Chan DC Racing’s home event.

I’m a bit speechless,” confessed former Caterham F1 Academy member Tan, who is only four races into his maiden campaign at the pinnacle of international sportscar competition. “We made history simply by taking part this season – and now we’ve made history again by winning. I genuinely couldn’t be any prouder right now.

The last hour was nigh-on unbearable in the pit garage. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous – I almost couldn’t bring myself to watch. We were all so hungry to get the win – particularly after coming so close at Silverstone. I think I speak on behalf of the whole team when I say it was a hugely emotional moment when Jazeman took the chequered flag. It was an awesome achievement, and I was over-the-moon that my family was able to be there, too, to witness it all and celebrate with me.

As ever, I owe a huge thanks to both Jackie Chan DC Racing and Sepang International Circuit for their incredible support – this has been a tireless team effort from day one, with everybody working their absolute socks off to develop the package and our potential.

The race itself was virtually flawless for us, and a lot of fun. Jazeman and Nabil both did a great job, and I was really pleased with my own stint as well. None of us made any mistakes, and that was complemented by excellent pit-stops and a good strategy by the team.

We could see the track was drying, but it was tricky to know exactly when the right time would be to change over to slicks. We had to adapt our initial ‘run plan’ somewhat, but Jazeman and the engineers made the perfect call and that put us firmly in control.

To come away with another one-two finish for Jackie Chan DC Racing is phenomenal and leaves us in a really strong position now championship-wise – with the momentum on our side. Standing on the top step of the podium was just the most amazing feeling – and going forward, that’s all the motivation we need.”

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