Pagenaud primed for more Sebring success with ESM P2

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Among the IndyCar drivers in action at this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Simon Pagenaud is one with some great experience at the central Florida circuit.

He’s competed here since 2009 with de Ferran Motorsports, Highcroft Racing, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Level 5 Motorsports, all in various iterations of Acura/HPD LMP1 or LMP2-spec chassis. He has finished second in class (2010-2012 LMP1, 2013 LMP2) each of the last four years.

Now for 2014, he’ll again be in an HPD prototype, in the same spec HPD ARX-03b as he raced with for Level 5 in 2013.

The difference is, this HPD is fielded by Extreme Speed Motorsports, and will be on Continental tires as opposed to Michelins.

Pagenaud was among the No. 2 car’s lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and together with ESM full season co-drivers Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek and fourth driver addition Anthony Lazzaro, finished seventh there, second best LMP2 car.

The Frenchman was part of an ESM private test at Sebring, after the series’ test Feb. 20-21. He compared the updated car favorably to last year’s.

“Yeah it’s a lot better than Daytona; this track suits the car much better,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week. “We did a lot of laps with no mechanical issues. The team did great, and we’re in good shape.”

The ESM cars – along with other P2-spec cars in the race – will be able to revert to high downforce bodywork as opposed to the low downforce, Le Mans-spec bodywork ran at Daytona. That should also aid the team’s progress.

“I think the Continental tire will be a little better tire,” he said. “We have a little bit more downforce now because we had to go away from the Le Mans kit. There’s more downforce but also more drag. The HPD product is very used to Sebring.”

Lazzaro won’t be in action this weekend so it will just be the three of them in the striking black-and-green Patron HPD car.

Pagenaud is in the midst of a busy stretch, where he won a rally in France in an S2000 class Peugeot, and will head to Barber right after Sebring for IndyCar’s final two-day preseason test with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.