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Healed and stronger, Denny Hamlin ready to pick up in 2014 where he left off at Homestead

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When the green flag drops to start the 56th Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, it’ll be 98 days and 290 miles between races for Denny Hamlin.

But even with the time lapse and the distance between Hamlin’s 2013 season-ending win at Homestead Miami Speedway and the 2014 Sprint Cup season opener at Daytona International Speedway, the Virginia native still feels like it was just yesterday that he took home the checkered flag.

And even with the layoff, Hamlin still feels like he has the best momentum of pretty much any fellow competitor coming into this year’s 500, based upon how he ended the most difficult year of his career at Homestead.

“Homestead, for me, made me believe that it’s possible, that if I get back healthy, this is the kind of results we can expect and this is how I should expect to run,” Hamlin told MotorSportsTalk. “So, not that Homestead made me change how hard I worked in the gym this off-season, but it definitely motivated me to know that if I’m feeling good, I’m going to be running good.”

There’s no denying how difficult and frustrating last season was for Hamlin. He was in the worst wreck of his career, forced to miss the next four races as a result of the back injury he sustained in a head-on crash into a unpadded retaining wall at Auto Club Speedway last March.

“It’s a dead year in a lot of ways,” Hamlin said.

To say Hamlin is more cerebral coming into 2014 is not a stretch. Up until last season, he relied more so on his talent to lead him behind the wheel. But now, he’s much more of a thinking man’s driver.

“What I take from it the most, I would say, would be just the appreciation of when you do run well,” he said. “I took for granted just making the Chase every single year and winning multiple races every year. Just like it was easy, really didn’t have to prepare for it.  I just showed up and we did it.

“With the competition and how we ran at the end of last year, you’ve got to think about preparing for more weeks and preparing to be good, you can’t just rely on talent to do it. “It’s looking over what you struggled with last time. It’s all about debriefing and figuring out in your meeting how can you get better? Not just chalking it up, ‘Oh, it’s just a bad weekend. We’ll rebound next weekend.’ No, why? Why did you struggle? How can you get better?”

Just putting the pedal to the metal won’t get it done anymore, Hamlin acknowledges. And what’s brought about the biggest change in him has nothing to do with Denny the race car driver, but more so Denny the man.

“I had a daughter, that helped a lot,” Hamlin said. “One thing’s for sure, as crappy as my weekends were week in and week out, it lasted as long as the plane ride home. That helped a ton.

“Those two events, having a daughter and having to sit out a few races, made me probably change my outlook more than anything has in the eight years that I’ve been in the Cup series on getting through those bad weeks and getting to the good ones and hopefully seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Those two things have changed the way I think about my job and what I have to do and hopefully it’s all for the good and shows up in 2014.”

Hamlin ultimately finished 2013 in 23rd place, which in and of itself is pretty significant. Sure, it was the worst finish of his Sprint Cup career, but he still managed to do so in just 32 races, compiling the win at Homestead, four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes.

By comparison, Hamlin finished higher than eight other full-time Cup competitors – including Casey Mears, Talladega spring winner David Ragan and Danica Patrick – in less races.

There were a number of critics that implored Hamlin to sit out the rest of the season and recuperate from the serious compression fracture he suffered at Fontana, that he needed complete rest and he was in effect hurting both himself and his team by playing hurt.

To his credit, Hamlin turned a deaf ear to the naysayers. And while admittedly his performance suffered, particularly in the middle of the season, he persevered and tuned out both his critics and the pain.

But no medicine could have made Hamlin feel better than the win at Homestead. Sure, his accomplishment was overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson winning his sixth Sprint Cup championship the same day, but Hamlin got exactly the kind of dose he needed: to go out a winner and build upon that momentum going into 2014.

“As the season got further towards the end, I started feeling better and better, and our performance just really started going with it,” he said. “Hopefully, my results (in 2014) go with all the hard work I’ve put in because I’ve done everything that I can to make sure that I’m well for this year. I don’t want to be the weak link, like I was during the summer, I feel like, for our team.”

So with the season opener now less than 10 days away, how is Hamlin feeling?

“I haven’t had anything, really,” he said when asked if he’s had any lingering pain. “Everything’s been good. I just feel so much stronger than I have been, so it shouldn’t be an issue at all. I think that really everything’s roses from here on out and we’ll see how it goes.”

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Haas confirms driver running order for Barcelona F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 24:  Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 drives during day three of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 24, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The Haas Formula 1 team has confirmed its driver running order for the two upcoming collective tests in Barcelona, Spain.

Haas will unveil its new car for 2017, the VF-17, on Sunday ahead of the first day of pre-season testing in Barcelona on February 27.

New signing Kevin Magnussen will get the first run in the VF-17, having joined Haas from Renault during the winter.

Magnussen will take the first two days in Barcelona before handing the reins over to Romain Grosjean, who returns to Haas after an impressive year leading its charge in 2016, for days three and four.

Magnussen will once again open proceedings for Haas at the second test, starting on March 7, and is also due to run on March 9. Grosjean takes March 8 and March 10, the latter being the final day of testing before the first race of the season in Melbourne, Australia.

“In our first test of the season, you try to make sure everything works as you designed it,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said.

“You just prove out whatever you did, and in the second part of the test, you try to get performance out of the car. Or, better said, you try to get performance as quickly as possible.

“First of all, make sure everything works. Everything is new on the car. The first test is quite important just from a reliability factor.

“You try to learn as much as possible about the car. You get the baseline on the car and you work off that baseline the rest of the year.”

Haas F1 Team – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Kevin Magnussen
February 28 – Kevin Magnussen
March 1 – Romain Grosjean
March 2 – Romain Grosjean

Test 2
March 7 – Kevin Magnussen
March 8 – Romain Grosjean
March 9 – Kevin Magnussen
March 10 – Romain Grosjean

Ferrari confirms Bruni’s exit, signs Pier Guidi to AF Corse WEC team

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Ferrari has confirmed that Gianmaria Bruni will leave the company in June, making way for Alessandro Pier Guidi to join its AF Corse factory team in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Bruni has been linked with a factory drive at Porsche for some time, with his exit from Ferrari by mutual consent being confirmed on Sunday.

“Ferrari and Gianmaria Bruni announce that, by mutual consent, they have early terminated their relationship,” a statement from Ferrari read.

“After a collaboration started in 2007, Bruni will leave Ferrari at the end of June of this year.

“Ferrari thanks Gianmaria Bruni for his professional contribution and wishes him the best of luck for his new challenges.”

Pier Guidi raced for AF Corse at Le Mans last year in the GTE Pro class, and also took part in five rounds of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2016 with Scuderia Corsa. The Italian also won the Rolex 24 at Daytona’s GTD class in 2014 driving a Ferrari 458 Italia.

Pier Guidi will race alongside James Calado in the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE in the WEC this season, leaving the second line-up of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon unchanged.

The new WEC season begins on April 16 at Silverstone in England.

Lewis Hamilton frustrated by sharing data with teammates in F1

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 13:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 13, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton feels frustrated that sharing data between teammates has become commonplace in Formula 1, saying it is unfair to gain an advantage by studying someone else’s homework.

Most F1 teams operate an open garage policy that sees their drivers help each other find areas for improvement by studying data from both cars following sessions.

Hamilton revealed in a Q&A for UBS that he found this frustrating, and has asked his Mercedes team not to show him data from across the garage.

“I go out, do my laps, do all my homework – the other guy can see everything,” Hamilton said.

“I have asked my team: ‘I don’t want to see my teammate’s [data]’. I don’t feel it’s fair that he brings his A-game and I should be able to study his A-game on a computer.

“The other driver naturally may be able to do more or less than you are. But because of this data they can just copy you.

“He’s braking five metres later there, I’ll go out and I’ll try braking five metres later.”

Hamilton said that he missed the rawness of go-karting at times, with talent being the main difference between drivers instead of data analysis.

“That’s what I loved about go-karting. You weren’t able to do that and that was where just your raw talent is able to shine,” Hamilton said.

“I think it should be: ‘You hired me because I am the best, because I’ve studied, because I’ve won every class that I’ve been in, I’ve not missed one in terms of winning’.

“And you’re hiring whoever the next person is because they’ve hopefully won some things along the way as well and you’re hiring them for their ultimate skill all round.

“They should be able to go out there on their own and find it all themselves without you.

“If I can’t do it on my own then I’m not good enough and I don’t deserve to be there. And there are some drivers that don’t.”

Sebastien Buemi: Renault e.dams’ Formula E advantage is clear

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Buenos Aires ePrix, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Saturday 18 February 2017.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Sebastien Buemi says that Renault e.dams’ current advantage over the Formula E field is clear for all to see after taking his third straight victory on Saturday in Buenos Aires.

Buemi followed his victories in Hong Kong and Marrakesh with a dominant display at the Puerto Madero street course in Argentina, taking the lead on lap six and never looking likely to lose the race from there.

The Swiss driver now stands 29 points clear at the top of the Formula E drivers’ championship after just three races, and is already the strong favorite to take a second crown in 2017.

“I think it’s clear that we have right now the best car, the best package. That obviously helps but it’s not everything,” Buemi said.

“You need to be doing good races, a good car and be a good team. I think as a package we’ve come out a bit better than the rest.

“We know that’s not going to last forever. If we can get as many points as possible as long as it lasts, that would be good.”

Buemi’s victory may have seemed straightforward, but the ex-Formula 1 driver revealed that the second stint of the race saw a number of problems arise that kept him on his toes.

“Today with the heat, there were many other things we had to manage, particularly the temperature of the battery,” Buemi said.

“We had some small issues on the brakes. It was quite difficult to actually drive the car.

“The car was not braking straight.”

To have finally won in Buenos Aires was also an important landmark for Buemi, having come close twice before.

“I’m quite happy because the first race here two years ago, I had pole and I did a mistake and ended up in the wall,” Buemi said.

“The second year I started last and finished second. In the end to get a win here is a great achievement. This race has never really gone our way but today it did.

“We’ll try to enjoy that a little bit and then look to Mexico.”