Perez makes it 2-for-2 after leading Friday Bahrain test

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Again, in the grand scheme of things, testing times mean little. But Sergio Perez couldn’t have done much better for himself or his new team of Force India after two days of Formula One’s last preseason test in Bahrain.

The Mexican led the timesheets for the second successive day, albeit at a slower best lap than his Thursday flier of 1:35.290. His Friday best was nearly three full tenths off at 1:35.570.

But more important than lap times, again, was lap count. And for a second straight day Perez topped the century mark, at 108 completed in the VJM07-Mercedes. Others cracking that barrier included Fernando Alonso (122), Felipe Massa (103) and Esteban Gutierrez (106).

Alonso, who was second in the Ferrari F14 T at 1:35.634, set a new single-lap high for this F1 testing season with the 122 complete. The 116 set by Valtteri Bottas on Thursday, Feb. 20 (Day 2 of Bahrain test 1) had been the previous high-water mark.

In third, with something to celebrate for once, was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with 66 laps completed in the RB10-Renault at a best time of 1:35.743. Both the lap and time marks are by far Red Bull’s best of this troubled preseason, and Ricciardo was a full 2.2 seconds quicker Friday than he had been Thursday. Four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel takes the reins of the car this weekend.

The Toro Rosso team also cracked the 60-lap barrier with Jean-Eric Vergne completing 61 laps. Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson got 55 in before a small fire.

Rounding out the Renault quartet in laps was Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, who had an unlucky day in the No. 13. The Venezuelan suffered what the team deemed on Twitter: “Sufficient char-grilling to render us out for the rest of today. Causation investigations continue.” Maldonado completed a day-low 31 laps.

Marussia got another good day of running in, which was very much needed after last week’s difficulties. Max Chilton ran 44 laps on Thursday, which was already 15 laps more than they did all last week. Then on Friday, Jules Bianchi took over the car and ran 75 laps, actually ending sixth on the day ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It marked a huge stride forward for the Anglo-Russian team, with its Ferrari-powered MR03.

FRIDAY TIMES FROM BAHRAIN:
1. Sergio Perez, Force India-Mercedes, 1m 35.570s, 108 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m 35.634s, 122
3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault, 1m 35.743s, 66
4. Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes, 1m 36.507s, 103
5. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m 36.901s, 52
6. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, 1m 38.092s, 75
7. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m39.041s, 89
8. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m 39.636s, 61
9. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m 39.976s, 106
10. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault, 1m 41.613s, 31
11. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault, 1m 42.516s, 55

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.