Vettel tops FP2 in Spa despite puncture

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Sebastian Vettel has sent out a warning shot to his title rivals by finishing quickest in Free Practice 2 for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on Friday, edging out teammate Mark Webber by just 0.059 seconds to head up a Red Bull one-two.

However, the world champion did not have it all his own way, suffering from a puncture that ended his session early. He had already done enough to secure top spot as the field focused on fuelled runs, with Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa and Jean-Eric Vergne particularly impressing to tail home the Red Bulls in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Conditions had improved drastically since the end of free practice one this morning where rain showers had limited meaningful running, with Spa-Francorchamps bathing in bright sunshine under blue skies. The serenity was quickly broken as Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg were the first drivers out on track, with the latter’s teammate, Esteban Gutierrez, setting the first benchmark time of 1:52.954 only for Daniel Ricciardo to go a fraction quicker seconds later. Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado also occupied P1 momentarily as the teams looked to make up for the lost time in the morning session, resulting in a frantic few minutes on track. Once the order had settled down, it was Sebastian Vettel who led from Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.

With the hard tires thoroughly tested, the first runners began to switch to the white-ringed medium compound, led by Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso. The Australian could only move up to P7 initially, not bothering the leaders who remained in the pits after their initial runs. When they did emerge, Webber set the immediate pace, dethroning his teammate by over one second, only for Vettel to strike back and reclaim P1 minutes later. Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen also set an impressive pace on fresh tires, with both drivers thought to be using the passive DRS device at Spa this weekend. Maldonado also showed signs of good pace throughout the session, suggesting that Williams may have turned a corner in their season.

As the race simulation runs began, the times at the top of the leaderboard came under little threat. Vettel’s engineer reassured the German driver that he was doing a good job as he looks to extend his championship lead this weekend. He will be hoping that he has used up all of his bad luck after a slow puncture forced him to crawl back to the pits with twenty minutes to go. Moments later, Giedo van der Garde speared his Caterham into the wall on the exit of Stavelot, ending his practice session early.

Once the stricken Caterham had been recovered, the yellow flags were withdrawn and the drivers returned to their original programme. However, with heavy fuel on board, none of the drivers could threaten Red Bull’s dominance at the top of the timesheets, suggesting that we could be set for a repeat of the 2011 Belgian GP where Vettel led Webber home in a one-two for the team, barring any punctures of course.

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

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