Allmendinger settles in during Friday sessions

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AJ Allmendinger hasn’t hit the “crunch time” part of the weekend in his open-wheel racing return, but two top-10 efforts in the two practice sessions, three tenths within teammate and Friday pace setter Helio Castroneves and both times within one tenth of Will Power, was nothing to scoff at.

The Los Gatos, Calif. native’s first weekend laps in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet came on a green track, with rain having fallen Thursday and a different set of rubber down from GRAND-AM’s Continental Tires.

“I felt like the first session was real slick compared to during the test, with the GRAND-AM cars here and the Continental cars here, and obviously with the rain and no rubber really being down on the race track,” he said. “For me, it’s just a process. Just trying to learn how these weekends go and try to keep up with the race track as it changes.”

Allmendinger tempered his happiness because he knows tomorrow will see even faster times.

“So far it felt like the first day was good, I think we were ninth and eighth, so there’s still a lot of to beat. The cars are going to be fast, that’s the good thing about the Penske organization and especially around this place,” he said.

Going into qualifying, hitting a “magic lap” will be key – a solid effort would probably be advancing out of Q1 into the top 12 on the grid.

“I know the car is going to be fast and the setup is going to be very close and it’s just going to be me going out there and figuring it out, what I need in a race car, how I get the speed out of it,” he said. “I still left a lot out there on that lap that I did, so I think tomorrow the biggest and toughest thing for me is that qualifying lap. Going out there for the first time and not having any practice and you just gotta go get that lap.”

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”