AAA 400 - Practice

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


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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Fong to test for Sauber in Abu Dhabi next week

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Thursday 26 November 2015.
Adderly Fong (HKG, Carlin) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL5941
© GP3 Series
Leave a comment

Sauber has confirmed that Adderly Fong will take part in next week’s Pirelli tire test following the conclusion of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi.

Fong, 25, first tested for the team in October 2014 before taking part in practice for last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Fong has since been racing in the GP3 Series and in the GT Asia series while also working with Lotus F1 Team as part of its development programme.

On Friday, Sauber announced that Fong would be returning to one of its cars for next week’s tire test in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“I am very pleased and thankful to have another opportunity to drive for the Sauber F1 Team,” Fong said. “I will do my best to give valuable feedback. I am looking forward to it, as well as the aim of extending my superlicence after completing 300 kilometers.

“Last year it was great to have the chance to drive the Sauber C33-Ferrari during FP1 here at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Now I am curious about testing the current car.”

Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added: “We are pleased to have Adderly in the car again and to give him the opportunity to drive a current Formula One car.

“He immediately put in a solid performance in his last opportunities for us. We are confident Adderly will again put in every effort in this tire test.”

Rosberg edges Hamilton in second Abu Dhabi practice

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nico Rosberg responded to the early pace shown by Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi by edging out the Briton for P1 in second practice on Friday evening.

Hamilton beat Rosberg by less than two-tenths of a second to finish at the top of the timesheets in the opening practice session at Yas Marina, but the German bounced back in FP2 to finish 0.138 seconds clear of his teammate.

Starting at dusk and finishing under floodlights, second practice offered the drivers far more representative conditions of what to expect on Saturday and Sunday than FP1 had, prompting the teams to complete a usual practice programme featuring qualifying simulations and heavy fuel race runs.

Once again, it was Mercedes who set the pace as Rosberg posted the fastest lap of 1:41.983, heading up a one-two finish for the German marque.

Sergio Perez produced a fine lap to finish less than half a second off Hamilton in third place for Force India, narrowly beating Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Sebastian Vettel showed few signs of a possible challenge to Mercedes from Ferrari in Abu Dhabi as he finished three-quarters of a second behind Rosberg, ending FP2 in fifth place. Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Raikkonen followed in sixth and seventh place respectively.

Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth in the second Force India, while Fernando Alonso enjoyed an improved, trouble-free session to end the day ninth for McLaren, giving the team hope of points at the end of a tough season.

Pastor Maldonado finished tenth for Lotus ahead of the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, who in turn were followed by Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. Sainz’s session came to an early end after a technical issue on his car forced him to park up at the side of the track with 30 minutes to go.

Romain Grosjean and Jenson Button finished 15th and 16th respectively, leading home Sauber drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson. Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the order for Manor in P19 and P20.

Red Bull secures engine deal for 2016 F1 season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26:  Members of the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team take part in a pit stop practice session during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Red Bull Racing’s engine saga appears to have finally come to an end after team principal Christian Horner confirmed that an agreement had been struck with a supplier for the 2016 Formula 1 season.

Red Bull’s participation in next year’s championship had been uncertain after the team expressed a desire to cut ties with existing supplier Renault over frustrations with the performance of its power unit.

However, the team failed to strike a deal with Mercedes and turned down Ferrari’s offer of a 2015-spec power unit for the new season. Talks were also held with Honda, but this deal was vetoed by McLaren CEO Ron Dennis, forcing Horner to rekindle negotiations with Renault.

A deal appears to have finally been struck that ensures Red Bull will still be racing in 2016, with an announcement due in the near future.

“We have an agreement with an engine for next year which hopefully will be confirmed in the coming days,” Horner is quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Red Bull is thought to have agreed an amendment to its deal with Renault that will allow the team to race with unbadged or rebranded engines in 2016 while the French manufacturer focuses on the impending takeover of Lotus and the revival of its works team.

B-team Toro Rosso is poised to take on 2015-spec Ferrari engines for the new season, ending its relationship with Renault after just two seasons.

Hamilton quickest in opening Abu Dhabi practice

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP returns to the garage during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton kicked off the final race weekend of the 2015 season in impressive fashion by setting the pace first practice in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

With the weekend’s key sessions taking place far later in the day and therefore in different conditions, first practice offered the drivers little in the way of meaningful running ahead of the race.

However, what it did provide was a chance to evaluate some early updates ahead of the 2016 season, acting as a glorified test session that allowed the drivers to head out and get in some laps before turning their focus to race setup in FP2 later today.

Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg led the way once again, with the Briton coming out on top thanks to a lap of 1:43.754 to give him P1 by just over one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton’s session was not without its issues as he narrowly avoided spinning twice before telling the team “my car doesn’t feel good” with a few minutes remaining.

Nevertheless, it was still a strong start from Hamilton as he looks to end Rosberg’s recent resurgence and pick up a first victory since the United States Grand Prix last month.

Ferrari posed the most stringent challenge to the Mercedes drivers once again as Kimi Raikkonen finished six-tenths of a second back in P3. Teammate Sebastian Vettel finished fifth as Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat split the Ferrari drivers.

Daniel Ricciardo underpinned Kvyat’s pace in the sister Red Bull by ending FP1 in seventh place, slotting in between Force India teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa rounded out the top ten in P9 and P10 respectively.

FP2 will offer the drivers more representative conditions, given that it will start at dusk just as qualifying and the race will, meaning that we are likely to be offered more of an indication of the pecking order.

You can watch second practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Friday.